Free Software for Writers (and Artists): The GIMP

Writers occasionally need to make use of imaging software, as I mentioned in my earlier capsule writeup about Inkscape.  That program is a drawing package; but sometimes you may need to edit or enhance a picture or digital photo, rather than drawing something from scratch.  This is where The GIMP comes in.  Intended as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop-style applications, GIMP stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program” (again with the acronyms); it can be used for photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring.  I’ve mostly used it for photo retouching, although I do occasionally use it to mush a couple of pictures together into something else.  I used The GIMP to ever-so-slightly lighten the cover of my vampire book, Long Before Dawn.  Those who are graphically inclined could create their own artwork from scratch using The GIMP’s bewildering array of tools, controls, and filters.  It has so many advanced features that I don’t know what 80% of them do, but they would be manna to an artist.

GIMP is available for Linux, OS X, and Dominant Operating System(TM).  If you are already familiar with Adobe Photoshop, you may want to look into GimpShop instead, which attempts to replicate the Adobe Photoshop UI experience.  (I’m not, so I haven’t)

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Review: “Enchanted”

So the other night we watched Disney’s Enchanted. First, a caveat: My wife can’t stand Disney princess cartoons. They rank one notch above anime in her book, with their huge-eyed tiny-waisted opera-voiced waifish heroines. Enchanted, of course, is Disney’s spoof of their own canon. It’s not a spoof in the way that Scary Movie is a spoof of Scream, though, but more the way that Scream is a spoof of other slasher flicks — if you’re not paying attention, it looks like the thing it’s poking gentle fun at. (Make extra sure to listen to the lyrics of the songs, especially “Happy Working Song”.)

Enchanted boasts an excellent cast, particularly Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey as the principals. (I still have trouble looking at Patrick Dempsey and not seeing the kid from Can’t Buy Me Love but that’s because, as we discussed in the 16 Blocks review, I’m old. And a guy.) James Marsden is quite funny as the dimwitted, self-centered, but good-hearted cartoon prince, and unleashes not a single optic blast; Timothy Spall is a hoot as his sidekick. The movie contains no serious stumbles or wasted scenes until the very end, with a rather unnecessary and incongruous climactic fight between the heroes and the evil queen (gleefully played by Susan Sarandon). They even get the dance frame more or less correct for the big waltz scene, although someone could have at least choreographed a few twinkles or promenades or sahsays instead of just a bunch of lady’s underarm turns. But, you can’t have everything.

My wife stayed awake for the entire movie, although afterwards she tried to claim that it wasn’t really that good of a film. But hey, a rating system is a rating system, and I didn’t really see her doing anything besides watch Enchanted for 100 minutes or so.

It’s A Raft, But Only In Great Britain

We have an inflatable bed that we use for houseguests. This bed has a built-in electric air pump that is used to self-inflate the mattress. Setting it up this week, I noticed something interesting about the warning on the side:

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As you can see, the warning for the United States clearly indicates that the bed is not for use in water, but no such warning is given for Great Britain. Why the difference? I can think of a few reasons:

  • Water in Great Britain is different from water in the United States (infused with faerie magic, perhaps) and this permits the bed to be used as a raft there
  • People in Great Britain aren’t as fat as Americans so the bed is more likely to support them when used as a raft
  • The manufacturer doesn’t care if the British drown or electrocute themselves
  • The British are smart enough to realize that an inflatable bed is not a pool toy
  • People in Great Britain can read English and will get the information from the U.S. warning anyway

And the last, most likely, reason:

  • Nobody in Great Britain has yet successfully sued the manufacturer for failing to explicitly state that, hey, you might not want to take this bed that has an internal electric motor and power cord and use it in your swimming pool

As Steve Dallas says: “God bless America, land of the lawsuit!”

Review: “August Rush”

So we watched August Rush tonight at our friends’ house around the corner. I wouldn’t normally do two reviews back to back, but I wanted to get this one done while the memory of this claptrap was still fresh.

August Rush is the story of a boy named Evan who’s in an orphanage but dreams of finding his parents. All I can say, after having seen this movie, is: <KRONK VOICE> “Riiiiiiiiight.”

WARNING: Spoilers follow. If you plan to see August Rush (please God, don’t do it), you may want to stop reading.

Continue reading

Review: “16 Blocks”

So last night my wife wanted to veg and watch a movie, because she’s had a long, hard week at work. Let’s see, what do we have from Netflix … hmm … looks like we have 16 Blocks and Ghost in the Shell. She already knows that 16 Blocks is a cop movie with Bruce Willis where “lots of people get shot”. She has never heard of Ghost in the Shell.

WIFE: What’s Ghost in the Shell?
ME: It’s a classic anime movie.
WIFE: Anime. <PITCHES VOICE REALLY HIGH> That’s where the girls all talk like this and giggle hee hee hee!!!! all the time.
ME: I don’t think Ghost in the Shell is like that … it’s a classic, like Akira and Cowboy Bebop.
WIFE: Mmm. We’ll watch 16 Blocks.

So now we know that although my wife hates cop movies where lots of people get shot (except for Running Scared, which she loved, but that’s a comedy so it doesn’t really count), she hates anime more. In goes 16 Blocks.

16 Blocks is of course the film in which Bruce Willis’s broken-down alcoholic guilt-ridden limping cop has to escort Mos Def’s oft-unintelligible (I had to turn on subtitles to understand all his dialog) witness 16 blocks to the courthouse so he can testify before a grand jury. He has to do this by 10am, or the jury’s term ends and the testimony becomes moot. Unfortunately, Bruce Willis is unaware that Mos Def is going to testify against some dirty cops, including Willis’s ex-partner, played by David Morse. If this reminds you a little bit of the Clint Eastwood film The Gauntlet (at one point, our heroes even end up on a bus, surrounded by heavily armed cops) then congratulations — you’re old!

All of this may sound like I’m dissing 16 Blocks, but I’m not. I actually quite enjoyed it. The performances from the three principals are excellent (anything with David Morse in it is worth watching), and in several cases where the film could have gone the Hollywood blockbuster route, it didn’t. 16 Blocks put my wife to sleep in about 45 minutes, which is rather astonishing for a film of this nature; not only that, but when she woke up, she was actually interested in how it ended.

A note about the alternate ending: It’s good to see that the filmmakers considered doing something a little unusual with the denouement, but unfortunately, the alternate ending just didn’t work for me. A big theme of the film is that people can change, but in the alternate ending, they changed a little too quickly for my taste. It’s still worth checking out, though.

Free Software For Writers: Inkscape

If you write large-scale fantasy novels, you are probably interested in drawing a map of your imaginary realm. There are several reasons you may want to do this, including:

  • Tolkien did it
  • It helps you understand the geopolitical dynamics of your little kingdoms and theocracies
  • Tolkien did it
  • You know where your characters are when they’re fleeing into the wilderness to escape hordes of orcs or whatever
  • Tolkien did it
  • Your characters can talk intelligently about landmarks, geographical features, countries that don’t figure directly into the action, etc.
  • Tolkien did it

Back when I ran Dominant Operating System(TM), I used ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer, which is software intended for use in drawing maps for role-playing game. This is really nice software, but unfortunately, it’s only available for Dominant Operating System(TM) and I never had any luck getting it to run under WINE (“Wine Is Not an Emulator”). So I had to look for alternatives. Enter Inkscape.

Inkscape is a scalable vector graphics (SVG) editor along the lines of Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. It is not specifically designed for drawing maps, but can easily be used for that purpose. Unless you’re a graphic artist, you probably won’t be using it to generate something that looks like these, but you can certainly draw something that you can use as a reference for your own purposes. Then, once you hit the big time, you can hire an illustrator to turn your maps into actual artwork. Of course, you could always hand-draw your maps on graph paper, but what fun would that be? <ROLLS 20-SIDED DIE> Mmm, six. Not so good.

Inkscape can be used to draw anything, of course, so if you’re feeling ambitious, you could use it to design your cover art, interior illustrations, character sketches, etc. (See also The GIMP, which I’ll talk about at some point, but not today.)

Inkscape is available for Linux, OS X, and, of course, Dominant Operating System(TM). Inkscape is only one of many free drawing programs, so if you find that it does not suit your needs, another one might.

“Dragon Stones” Cover

I mentioned that for my book Long Before Dawn, I took the cover photo myself. For the Dragon Stones cover, though, I had a bit of a quandary … I could hardly find a dragon and take a picture of it (they’re notoriously camera-shy and tend to eat paparazzi), and I’m not so good at the drawing thing, so I couldn’t make my own picture unless I wanted a stick figure dragon; so I delved into a couple of artwork sites (iStockPhoto and deviantART) looking for dragon illustrations. I ended up working with a group of Italian artists called Red Frog to get a modified version of their vector dragon illustration.

I just finished working on Long Before Dawn (except for getting an ISBN for distribution purposes), so it will still be several weeks before Dragon Stones comes out, but here’s a preliminary version of the Dragon Stones cover:

2053464_cover.pdf

Feedback is welcome!