Screenplay Refinement

Posted: 1st August 2016 by Cheap in Uncategorized

I just read what is essentially a scene-by-scene analysis of Star Trek VI.  It was quite interesting to read, because it examines the film in a way that I never have.  This is my favorite Star Trek film, I have watched it many times, and I have long admired it for its economy of story telling.  Every scene has a purpose and keeps the story moving, and that means there is never a dull moment.  However, when I read that analysis, it shows how much painstaking effort went into making each scene as effective as possible.

This makes me think about how to refine a screenplay the same way.  Each scene should be studied, improved, and perfected.  Intensified.  Extraneous stuff should be removed.



Posted: 31st July 2016 by Cheap in Fiction, Me, Writing
  • A couple weeks ago, I went to a meet-up of writers in Jefferson County.  It was a small group, and I enjoyed it.  A couple of published authors, and a fairly loose discussion of things we’re working on.  I discussed the space station murder mystery I am planning, and while I didn’t receive a lot of input or advice, I feel a lot more confident about a specific direction I want to take the story.  I may read one or both of the published authors.  I’m looking forward to meeting up with them again.
  • I read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.  I like the author’s writing style.  This is the second book of his that I’ve read, and I frequently read his blog.  His use of language is very readable, but with a frequent flourish of expression.  He also has intelligent things to say and observations to make about people.  However, he is a little weak on plot and suspense.  Old Man’s War is particularly weak on that regard.  It is much like Starship Troopers in that it depicts the fighting force of the future by charting one man’s progression through it.  Creative with the science and technology, but only barely what you could call a story for its lack of a goal.  Still, at least this one wasn’t preachy about political ideology.
  • There is also a science-fiction book club I want to participate in, this one being run by the Kirkwood library.  I just finished reading Uprooted by Naomi Novik, the book to be discussed next month.  I definitely enjoyed it.  I’m not sure what to expect from a book club discussion, having never been to one (although I do have some idea after reading Among Others by Jo Walton).
  • Another meet-up group I considered but rejected was a camping group.  The idea of camping with a bunch of strangers just doesn’t appeal to me.  I am simply not that social.  After my camping trip last month, where I camped in solitude some of the time and in noisy campgrounds at other times, I realized that I much preferred the quiet isolation.  I am a loner.  An introvert.  Camping, I realize, is a chance to get away from other people.  I’m sure I would enjoy camping with friends, but I don’t think I want to meet new people that way.
  • Half of the bradford pear tree in my front yard fell during a storm and landed on my mom’s SUV.  And by half, I mean the southwestern half.  It split down the middle, and one side came down.  No rot, nothing unhealthy or dead.  Just weak wood.  This species of tree is notorious for it.  It grows so tall it cannot support its own weight.  If you have a bradford pear tree, plan to have it topped every two or three years, or consider removing it.  Also, in Missouri it has become invasive, cross-pollinating with dogwoods.  Anyway, my mom’s SUV was totaled, but she is having it partially repaired anyway.  It has taken two weekends to get the rest of the tree removed and the whole thing cleared.  Also, there is now zero shade in the front yard, and I am thinking about what kind of tree to have planted to replace it.


Posted: 13th July 2016 by Cheap in Me

I am forty-five years old, and until now I have had only an approximate idea of where I was born.

When I was younger, I was told I was born “in St. Louis.”  However, I grew up in unincorporated St. Louis County, and in our mailing address, the city was always given as “St. Louis,” yet we definitely didn’t live in the City of St. Louis.  Later, either because I was told or because I read it on my birth certificate, I learned the name of the hospital.  However, it was a hospital I wasn’t familiar with, so that didn’t fix the location for me.  Somehow, I got it unto my head that it was in Kirkwood.  I have even given Kirkwood as my place of birth on various official documents.  I’m not even sure there is a hospital in Kirkwood.

I just dug out my birth certificate.  I was born at Lutheran Hospital.  I had to do a little searching on Google to find out where that was, because it hasn’t been called Lutheran Hospital since 1999.  It is now one of several medical centers called St. Alexius.  It’s address is 2639 Miami Street.  It turns out I have driven past that place hundreds of times without noticing it.  It is a small psychiatric medical complex surrounded by parking and screened by trees and an iron fence.  It is just a couple blocks away from the heart of the Cherokee district I frequent in the south city.  I passed a block and a half away just five days ago.

I really was born in St. Louis.

You Voted for It

Posted: 6th July 2016 by Cheap in Philosophy, Politics

The voting skills of the American electorate have frustrated me for some time.  Our Presidential candidates this year are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton of all possibilities, and now the UK has had Brexit.  I have long wondered what to do about it.  Restore journalism ethics?  The driving motivator isn’t there.  Educate voters about the issues?  It’s the same as propaganda.

Perhaps, rather than educating voters on specific issues, we should start pointing out the cause-and-effect relationship between our voting choices and the outcomes.  When we complain about high taxes and government spending, it should be pointed out that we voted for it.

In fact, all of this complaining and distrust of “the government” is an attempt to vilify and blame no one.  It’s an evil entity over which we can pretend we have no control, and most certainly we did not create.

Pawnee National Grassland

Posted: 28th June 2016 by Cheap in Travel

The Pawnee National Grassland is located in northeast Colorado.  As the name would imply, it is a large expanse of grassland, relatively flat, set aside for public use much like the National Forest system.  It is a very beautiful place, and very peaceful.  Except, perhaps, for the cows.

There are three small developed campgrounds at the Grassland.  My original plan was to camp at one of these.  However, at the time I was making reservations, the campgrounds were closed due to recent flooding.  I decided to do what is known as “dispersed” camping, which is basically to camp in undeveloped land.  This is allowed in both National Forest and National Grassland, and it opens many possibilities, so long as you are fully prepared to “rough it”.  Also, it’s free!


When using either a National Forest or National Grassland, one has to be careful to know where the public land is.  Most maps, including Google Maps, will show the area as one big block.  However, inside this block is still quite a big of privately owned land.  To avoid trespassing, you need a detailed map from the Forest Service, which you can order from their Map Store.  The white areas in the map indicate privately owned land, so as you can see, most of it is not public land.

The grassland is evidently available for use by cattle ranchers, who are allowed to let their cattle graze there.  This means I was sharing the pasture with cows.  There were none nearby when I arrived, but there were cow patties.  The cows in the distance are always making some noise, but at about 1am, I was awoken by a cow that was behaving strangely.  It would moo loudly and repeatedly, and between each moo it would suck in a wheezing breath.  It would do this for several seconds, and then walk for a while, and then repeat the whole procedure.  Knowing nothing about cow behavior, it seemed sick to me.  I woke up because it was getting loud, and as I listened, it was getting louder.  I realized it was coming toward me.  I imagined a territorial bull not liking my scent and protecting its herd.  I wondered what a bull would do to a tent, and me in it, if it was sufficiently disturbed.  As it continued to get closer, I decided I would be better off outside of the tent and near the truck.  I threw on some clothes and took cover near the truck.  With binoculars, all I could see was a silhouette, and I couldn’t tell if it was a bull or a cow.  In any case, its proximity turned out to be just coincidence.  It slowly followed a line of travel which brought it past my campsite, but no closer than fifty yards.  I eventually got back into my tent and resumed my sleep, losing about an hour to the mad cow.

When I arrived, and for a few hours into the night, it was quite windy.  I would estimate 25-30 mph winds.  My new tent had reviewed well for standing up to high winds, and this put it to the test.  It was a clear night with lots of stars and a nearly full moon.  Aside from the cow, it was a beautiful night.

Minor Updates

Posted: 27th June 2016 by Cheap in Fiction, Firearms, Technology
Tags: , , ,
  • At work, we use monitoring systems to alert us to problems with the system, so that we can react to them quickly.  We take the monitoring systems quite seriously.  Today, on one of my personal servers, I discovered that a service had crashed, and I hadn’t noticed for fifteen hours.  It was quite a shock to think about something going down without my notice for so long.  I have been wanting (for years) to learn and build out a monitoring system for my personal systems, but I haven’t gotten around to it.  I assumed it would be Nagios.  However, we’ve started to use Sensu at work, and I am supposed to be learning it, so maybe I will start with that.
  • I have a lot of other technologies to learn.  And I mean a lot.  I have actually been very stagnant with computer technology for the last several years.  Until recently, such things didn’t matter to my position on an operations team.  However, two things have changed: our team taking on more responsibilities and becoming more of a DevOps team, and I am exploring the possibility of doing freelance work for extra income.  So that’s several technologies at work for which I need to gain expertise, and several current technologies that have become popular fields for freelance work.  I have a stack of new computer books to read.
  • A sign of a good thriller is that it hooks you from the beginning and you can’t put it down.  It is rare that I read a whole book in a single sitting, but I did that last night with James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor.
  • Velocity is a new company that makes a pretty good drop-in trigger for the AR-15.  Not only is it pretty good, but it is very competitively priced.  I just installed one in my R-15, and I took it to the range over the weekend.  There is no detectable creep, and it was pleasant to shoot.  It’s not as nice as the Geissele trigger in my other AR-15, but this one is a single-stage trigger.  I can no longer blame the trigger for accuracy problems.
  • I think I am going to move Dean Koontz off of my active authors list.  I just read Ashley Bell, and I found myself turned off by Koontz’s reliance on one-dimensional bad guys who embody pure evil and who also happen to have limitless resources and be well organized and well connected.  Midway through, there is a plot twist that somewhat justifies this, but by then my distaste was already well seated, and the new situation left the story feeling disjointed and poorly planned.  I was already feeling annoyed with Koontz’s unrealistic characters by the time I finished his Odd Thomas series, and this sort of clinched it.  I guess I’m not really a fan of supernatural thrillers.  I stumbled backwards into his work by reading Sole Survivor, which had me until the end expecting a rational, scientific explanation.  Dean Koontz is a master of suspense, which for me is an important component of storytelling.  However, I think I will prioritize my future reading time for other things.
  • I think I am sold on “dispersed” camping.  This is term that applies to camping in the middle of nowhere, which you can do in most National Forest and National Grassland property.  No table, no fire ring, no grill, no electricity … nothing.  Just back from a camping road trip in which I camped in two developed campsites and three dispersed campsites, I much prefer the latter.  You can have total privacy and quiet.  And it’s free!  The main disadvantage is that there is no bathroom or shower, so you have to deal with those things yourself.
  • Back in 2005, George W. Bush signed into law his energy plan that wasn’t an energy plan.  As an oil crony, the idea of actually reducing America’s dependence on oil was anathema to Bush and those to whom he was beholden.  However, a President has to have an energy plan, so he pushed through this ridiculous Act.  Basically, his plan called for banning incandescent light bulbs screwing with daylight savings time.  The latter probably cost more in IT salaries to implement than it will ever save.  However, more than a decade later, I am much more satisfied about the light bulb thing than I was at the beginning.  CFL technology is junk.  However, LED technology has fairly well matured and become rather affordable.  Almost all of my lighting is LED, and it is pleasant, reliable, and energy efficient.
  • These days, I live in a county that does not regulate the sale or use of fireworks.  Neighbors are already setting off fireworks a week before the 4th of July.  On the 4th, it will look and sound like a war zone, a thick smoke filling the air.  However, I now live in the pretentious part of the county.  A couple years ago, I lived in a place where fireworks go off all summer, with the 4th being merely the crescendo in the middle.
  • I actually called my father on Father’s Day.  He and I have relaxed into a very casual attitude about remembering dates: birthdays and Father’s Day.  A.D.D. is hereditary, and we both have it.  We’ve both missed each others’ birthdays often enough that we no longer take even the slightest offense when the other misses ours.  Actually remembering on the day is remarkable by itself, and this year I remembered to call on Father’s Day.

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Posted: 27th June 2016 by Cheap in Travel

A few years ago, my sister and her family lived in Denver, our whole family was making plans to migrate that direction, and my brother and I were talking about starting a business manufacturing firearms.  Then in 2013, Colorado enacted a new gun control law which, among other things, banned full capacity magazines.  This made Colorado an unsuitable location for many manufacturers in the firearm industry, and they began moving out of the state.  My brother and I began researching alternate locations.  The seemingly obvious choice was Cheyenne.

Cheyenne is only two hours away from Denver, straight up I-25.  In fact, Cheyenne is at the north end of a whole urban corridor.  The population of the city is about 60,000 with nearly 100,000 in the metropolitan area.  Not much industry in terms of manufacturing, machining, or engineering, but with the whole urban corridor, the regional resources would be enough.  The biggest question was, would I want to live there?

The question became moot.  My sister and her family relocated out of Colorado, partly in response to the new gun law and the increasing nanny-state politics that it signified.

However, this summer I found myself planning a camping road trip that would take me west on I-80, right through Cheyenne.  Even though I no longer have any reason to consider living there, my curiosity led me to spend a little time exploring the city.

Cheyenne is bigger than I expected.  Looking at photographs and considering population numbers, I expected a much smaller, dustier, and colder little rural town.  Instead, Cheyenne is like a very large Denver suburb, the same sort of roads and architecture.  It seemed like a very nice place to live and raise a family.  For some reason, I had imagined a “downtown” of two or three blocks.  However, it has a rather large urban zone.  The outskirts of the city are spacious and spread out, with interesting character and the mountainous feel that Denver has.  Grass was green, so they evidently do not suffer from drought.

If I was still planning to relocate to that region, Cheyenne would be very appealing to me.

[Edit: Since posting this, I have gained more clarity about the definition of “anti-intellectualism”, which is hostility specifically and directly toward intellectuals, education, and reason.  It is not merely the rejection of reason, facts, and scientific knowledge in the context of some other issue.  That said, gun control is not anti-intellectualism.  The rejection of well-established but inconvenient truths is some other facet of human nature for which I do not have a term.]

We are suffering from many things in this nation, and one of the biggest is anti-intellectualism.  It is a multi-faceted problem problem that I have been trying to grasp for some time.  After the latest mass shooting and the current onslaught of gun control rhetoric, it has occurred to me that gun control is one of the left-wing’s afflictions of anti-intellectualism.

(This is not intended as a complete essay, but part of my thought investigation into anti-intellectualism.  In context, I view anti-intellectualism and antiscience as tools to influence voters and consumers.  Though there is a common perception that such thinking is primarily limited to conservative politics, liberals have a substantial list of their own pet dogmas.)

False statements.  Misleading statements.  Misrepresentations of data.  Appeals to emotion and rejection of logic.  This is the usual gun control rhetoric.

I have a friend who likes to debate.  Indeed, he has a philosophy degree (from Russia, no less) and is formally educated in logic.  He and I have occasionally tried to discuss the topic of gun control.  I was astonished at his reaction.  He actively and consistently refused to consider the evidence.  (He ignored me when I accused him of confirmation bias, a topic we’ve often discussed.)  When pressed, he asked me, “Where is the data that supports the gun control advocates?”  I thought for a minute, and I couldn’t think of any.  (This was before Everytown began compiling their dubious lists of shooting incidents.)  I tried to explain this to him.  They don’t have any data.  All they have are misrepresentations of data.  I tried to explain to him, but he didn’t believe me.  Instead, he accused me of confirmation bias.  “They must have data supporting their position,” he insisted.  However, he was wrong.  I still haven’t found any.

(If you are a gun control advocate, you are undoubtedly thinking, “Oh, yeah?  Well, what about [insert assertion of fact here]?”  Believe me: whatever you’ve heard is easily unraveled.  If you doubt this, I would love to have a conversation with you.  However, that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now.)

The only way to hold a position advocating gun control is to ignore the facts or to actively misrepresent them.

I understand why politicians do this.  Politicians at both ends of the spectrum use gun control as an emotional hot button to mobilize their voting base.  Republicans stir up fear about losing their gun rights, and more conservative voters show up at the polls.  The NRA assists them with this.  Democrats stir up fear about mass shootings and school shootings, and more liberal voters show up a the polls.  The media assists them with this.  It has become an arms race (no pun intended), and both sides must do this to keep up with the other side.

What I need to understand is why people do this.

Obviously, a lot of people approach both sides of the idea primarily from an emotional standpoint.  Gun control advocates are afraid of guns.  Gun proponents are afraid of criminals (and tyranny).

But why don’t people eventually succumb to reason?

Maybe it’s a chicken and egg problem.  Politicians and the media reinforce existing biases and confuse the facts.  Confirmation bias on both sides.  But how did the cycle begin?

Maybe I should be looking at the problem from the opposite side.  Instead of wondering why people abandon reason, I should ask myself when people actually rely on reason.  How often are matters of public opinion actually informed by facts and science?  Are they ever?  Or is it really just a matter of coincidence?  Some scientific outcomes match the public’s preconceived beliefs and some contradict the public’s beliefs.  When they agree, the public pats itself on the back and congratulates itself for its scientific ideals.  When they disagree, the science is buried.  When the public is of two minds, the science is bandied about by some and criticized and ridiculed by others.

So in that sense, science and logic do not significantly influence public opinion.  Are there cases when it has?  Perhaps I should look for those and examine those, examine how a matter of science became a matter of popular belief.  What circumstances made that possible?


Was Judge Aaron Persky Bribed?

Posted: 7th June 2016 by Cheap in Philosophy, Politics

It has been my experience that when intelligent people make seemingly stupid decisions, it is because they are following an agenda that is in conflict with reason.

The case of Brock Turner raping an unconscious girl should have been a simple case with a simple verdict.  Yet somehow, the judge seems confused.  Confused about the purpose of criminal sentencing, about the role of the perpetrator’s merit, and about the penalties that fit the crime.  In short, the judge has handed down a decision that seems clearly stupid.

Which leads me to wonder why.  He is an experienced, sitting judge, so presumably he is neither confused nor stupid.  Has he made this decision for an ulterior reason?  Has he given us a nonsensical explanation for his verdict because he can’t explain the real reason?  Could that reason be that he was paid off?

There is a currently a petition being circulated to recall the judge.  Perhaps a more appropriate course of action would be to investigate this judge for evidence of corruption.

Cynical Settings in Hard-Boiled Fiction

Posted: 22nd May 2016 by Cheap in Fiction

A defining characteristic of hard-boiled detective fiction is cynicism.  The protagonist in such a novel has a necessarily cynical world view and makes cynical observations about the world.  Many such novels are set in Los Angeles.  I thought that was just a cliché trope, until I started thinking about how the setting contributes to the story’s cynicism.

The culture of 1940’s Los Angeles promotes cynicism in two ways that I can think of off the top of my head.  First, corruption among all levels of law enforcement was very high.  A private detective investigating crime inevitably interacts with the police and prosecutors, and in a corrupt town like L.A. they serve as good obstacles and antagonists.  A police detective may himself be corrupt, or may be the rare good cop trying to navigate a corrupt system.  Secondly, the Hollywood filmmaking industry has a dark side, using up and taking advantage of a constant flow of naive, aspiring actors.  There are so many systems set up for personal gain, the city is one big trap.

I am currently reading two series of hard-boiled detective fiction set elsewhere.  One is Martin Cruz Smith’s series of novels centering on Arkady Renko, beginning with Gorky Park.  It is set in the Soviet Union, dating (so far) near the end of the Soviet era.  What could be more corrupt than that?  Cynicism is also aided by the ideals of Communism, Marxism, and Leninism, which by this point in history few people believe in, but must still go through the motions.  The KGB and the militia (the domestic police force) are not so corrupt as they are serving interests in conflict with direct criminal law enforcement, and Soviet citizens live a dual life to keep up public appearances.  These novels are a lens through which to examine how human nature undermined and defeated Marxism, as well as the brutality by which individuals will treat each other under such an authoritarian system.

The other is Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, which are set in and around Berlin during the period leading up to and after World War II.  In the 1930’s, Berlin is a city of immorality with a corrupt and ineffective police force.  However, the politics of the 1930’s rapidly leads the culture to disconnect with reality, breeding hate and opportunism.  During the war itself, there is a period of apparent success gained at the expense of others, followed by a doom and impending judgement that everyone can sense.  Following the war is a period of poverty and the corruption that it brings, combined with a sort of cultural retribution by the Allies.  Again, the authoritarianism and the dark ways in which human nature responds to it.

I suppose it may be possible to write cynicism in a setting that is optimistic and ideal.  However, it certainly helps, when writing hard-boiled fiction, to have a setting that focuses and emphasizes dark human nature.