Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Quick question: in the Star Wars universe where folk are smart enough to build spacecraft that can travel faster than the speed of light, where they've created laser guns and lightsabres, where children create cognitive robots and pod-racers in their spare time, why is it that the most powerful organisation in the galaxy can't create a hologram with decent resolution?

Those things look like the holograms that used to be sold in Athena back in the 80s.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Copyright Notice

In light of my previous post about copyright on the net, I came across author Karen Traviss's copyright notice on her website.

Well written in plain, easy to understand and despite what she's telling people, quite friendly language. Probably still won't make a huge difference, but at least you can't say you haven't had fair warning when the letters from the lawyers come around.

In fact it was such a good notice warning about stealing intellectual property I was tempted to reproduce it in its entirity for my site.

Now where's my emoticon for irony?

Monday, 16 March 2009

Copyright and the Internet

An interesting analysis on why the newspaper industry is doomed.

Obviously file-sharing and free distribution of copyright material if taken to its extreme will mean that there's no money to be made in copyrighted works (unless those works can be produced in a format that prevents copying and free re-distributions (such as sculptures - I'd like to see one of those on Pirate Bay)).

Which will leave us with only the enthusiastic amateurs able to produce work - or the publicly funded bodies such as the BBC (assuming the licence fee hasn't been abolished by then).

In the short term, the convenience of the portability of books and newspapers (until/if ever e-readers take off in a big way) and the spectacle of big screen projection (until home cinema can match it) give a certain amount of protection to written works and film - and the fact that not all of the world's book/music/film consuming population practices file sharing. But as the technology continues to expand and as file sharing continues to gain in popularity, the current models for rewarding the creators of copyrighted works are going to become less and less effective.

So what are the options?

More public funding following the BBC model - perhaps some sort of entertainment tax - if you own a computer/digital reader/DCD burner you have to pay a licence fee to pay for the creation of content to watch? That was after all how the BBC's licence fee came about - to pay for programming on that newfangled device, the radio.

Plenty of problems evident with that model, but I do think it's a good argument for not abolishing the BBC's current funding just yet.

More product placement - or films entirely sponsored by companies. Certainly one way to increase the amount of commercial interference with art - and if the economic model is viable, I can certainly see this happening. It already has with various mini films produced for the Internet - so why not full length commercials with the likes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of McDonalds, or Star Wars VII: Attack of the iPhones?

An increased interest from artists in live shows. Although you can record theatre, concerts, etc, you can't reproduce the experience (yet). As a writer isn't it better if I earn a fee per performance of my play rather than getting no royalties from the illegal sharing of my book?

Public sponsorship - you want the next JK Rowling - well she's not going to publish it until enough people pay her upfront for it. Similar to the BBC licence fee, except here the money's going direct to the creator of the work. There will still be people getting it for free, but those who really want to read it (who would have bought the book in a non-file sharing world), will presumably still be willing to part with the cash. Of course this relies on having a significant enough readership in the first place.

Artists don't get rewarded and only create works of art for the sheer joy of it. Which means a lot less stuff from your favourite author who now has to work at the local supermarket to put bread on the table rather than being able to devote the whole working day to producing the next Discworld/Kay Scarpetta/Jack Ryan book.

None of those are solutions that I'd be happy with as they're either putting the patronage of the arts within the control of an even smaller group of people than we have currently, or they're introducing a fairly severe form of artistic Darwinism that selects work that best appeals to the lowest common denominator, not that necessarily encourages good work (although the two are not necessarily different).

I think it'll probably take much smarter people than me to come up with something that works. The fact is that as file-sharing increases, we're probably going to see an awful lot of different models tested. Most of them won't work. Some will, but we won't like them. Eventually we will find a new equilibrium, but without a doubt we're going to see sustaining a career in the arts become more difficult than it is now.

Why couldn't I have just wanted to become a plumber?

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Star Wars Marathon

Over the last couple of days I've sat down and watched (as opposed to standing up and watching) the Star Wars prequels again and a couple of episodes of the Clone Wars CGI cartoon.

I've noticed that I've started to wince a little less at some of the dialogue in the prequels. I think repeated viewings have helped me build up a tolerance to it. Or perhaps it was because I was also rewriting part of my novel at the same time (don't worry, I've made sure there's no bleed over) and I wasn't paying any attention.

There were a couple of things I thought (or perhaps re-thought) while I was watching:

Not all of the dialogue is bad. If you squint at the screen, plug up one ear and hum along with the Imperial March, it doesn't all sound that bad. Actually, there was even one romantic scene (or part of a scene) where I almost believed the dialogue between the two characters. Which was then spoiled by the bit that followed immediately after. It's like that all the way through - there are little gems of dialogue struggling to get through, but they're swamped by all the crap.

It still looks absolutely fantastic. As a visual director I think Lucas is superb - he's just very bad at directing actors, decent characterisation and writing dialogue. All the character stuff basically. The action scenes when no one is talking are superb. And he's continued to create (with a lot of visual designers helping) a fascinating universe. Naboo and Coruscant (which I know was created before the prequels, but it was the first time on film that it was properly explored) easily hold their own with the likes of Bespin and Tatooine.

The music easily holds its own with the first trilogy. The Otog Gunga themes are perfect old-school science fiction and the main themes Williams has invented for the three films (Duel of the Fates being the only one I can name off the top of my head) are brilliant. This is the John Williams who should be composing for the movies - not the guy who scored War of the Worlds.

Half the problems I have with the films would be solved if Anakin had been half a decade older in The Phantom Menace. It would certainly make the love story in Attack of the Clones more believable - not to mention allowing for the final battle to be more than 'oops'. There are a whole bunch of other things that I think could be changed in the films that would still leave the story intact, but would present it in a much better way. That's the thing that makes the prequel trilogy so frustrating to me - a few relatively easy fixes and it could have been so much better.

Still, it's easy to backseat drive - and even easier to fix the problems with someone else's story than it is to write one of your own.

Clone Wars cartoon on the other hand I have no complaints about - except that I would have liked to hear a few more of the actors from the films providing voices. Anakin (despite sounding quite a bit different) and Padme are fine as they are - but Ian McDiarmid had such a distinctive voice as Palpatine that it's a shame he wasn't used. Oh and I'm still not sure about the end theme - I like the way it starts, but I'd have preferred they went with a different tune rather than the disco version of Williams' theme that's been used.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Internet v Legitimate Media

Snopes.com is one of my favourite websites. If you haven't come across it yet, it takes various rumours, urband legends and chain-email claims and tries to validate those that are authentic, or debunk those that are not. Here's an example about the evils of aspartame.

Shows you shouldn't trust anything you read on emails or the Internet. Which is why having legitimate journalists ferreting out the truth about things is so important and why newspapers and broadcast media are so much more reliable if you want the straight facts.

Or not.

Second time in two postings that I've referenced Charles Stross - I'm really getting lazy.

The link, for those even lazier than me who can't be bothered to click on it, is about a recent widely reported story about the cancer-inducing effects of tiny amounts of alcohol on women. At the time it sounded a little screwy to me and Mr Stross, who has bothered to do a little bit more research than I could, has highlighted several things wrong with the story. Which the reporters couldn't be bothered to check.

Of course if they had then they wouldn't have had the scare-mongering headlines they could use to sell their papers.

There are a couple of books that deal with this misreporting - Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner covers the misuse of statistics, usually caused by a lack of understanding about what they're actually telling you (or not as the case may be). My Trade by Andrew Marr looks mostly at newspaper journalism and gives a journalist/editor's view on the background behind the stories.

And the lesson in all of this is: you can't trust anyone to tell you the truth. You have to find it yourself.

I should have gone into writing greetings cards.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Being Late

Charles Stross commenting on George RR Martin's late delivery of the latest volume of his forest-endangering fantasy epic.

It's just as well I'm not published yet because it's taking me months to rewrite the final chapters of my novel. Although instead of writer's block or conflicting commitments, I've only got my own laziness to blame. And the fact that writing this thing has gone from being very easy to incredibly hard. If I had fans, I'm sure they'd end up vilifying me too.