Free Software: Stellarium

So I haven’t done a “free software for writers” post in a while because, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve kind of run out of software that I use that I can plausibly label as “for writers”.  If I do think of another writing-related package I will certainly post it, but I didn’t want to stop writing about free software until then, so I’ve decided to branch out and just write about other programs that I’ve used or seen (other than well-known ones like Firefox or Thunderbird) that people might find interesting.  Today’s software is Stellarium.

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Review: “The Illusionist”

So last night we watched The Illusionist, in which the famous magician Tyler Durden (Edward Norton) plays tricks on John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) in an attempt to steal away his putative fiancee, Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel), all the while being investigated by the persistent Inspector Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti).

Okay, so none of those characters are actually the ones that are in this film, but that should give you some idea of how twisty this movie is.  Nothing is what it seems, except for the stuff that’s exactly what it seems; it’s up to the viewer to figure out which is which.  Edward Norton is an illusionist in love with a woman waaaay above his station in life, Jessica Biel is some sort of Hungarian noblewoman, Rufus Sewell is a crown prince who wants to use Biel to line up Hungarian support, and Paul Giamatti is an inspector who owes his position to Sewell but is fascinated by Norton’s magic.  I won’t give away any plot details, except to say that Rollie Tyler has got nothing on Eisenheim the Illusionist.

Despite being called The Illusionist, this film might as well be called The Inspector, because Paul Giamatti’s character is actually the most central figure.  This is a good thing, because he’s easily the most interesting person in the movie.  The actors all do fine jobs, especially (no surprise) Giamatti and Norton.  You could put these two in a movie where all they do is make faces at each other and it would probably be riveting.  (Okay, I will admit that I had a little bit of trouble accepting Jessica Biel as a duchess; but she didn’t embarrass herself at all playing opposite three heavyweights, and she certainly looks good in period garb.)

My wife stayed awake for the entire movie.  In one sitting.  Starting at 8:30pm, which is pretty close to when she falls asleep even when we’re not watching television.  This could well make The Illusionist the top-rated film of all time, or at least, since I started posting reviews …

Review: “The Orphanage”

So this week we watched The Orphanage, which can perhaps best be described as a casserole of The Devil’s Backbone and The Others, with a pinch of The Sixth Sense and a little Poltergeist garnish.  Sadly, though, this casserole was only baked about three-quarters of the way, so it’s still a little runny on the inside.

The Orphanage wasn’t quite as good as most of those other films I just named as ingredients, and it was nowhere near as good as The Devil’s Backbone.  But it was much better than The Others, which my wife and I both found to be a great big predictable snoozefest.  (Even I almost fell asleep watching The Others.)

Anyway, The Orphanage involves, yes, an orphanage, and some orphans, and some treasure hunting, and some weird noises, and a tall, skinny, less funny version of Zelda Rubinstein’s medium, and some ghosts, and the usual crowd of people who don’t believe in ghosts vs. the one person who does.  It has a few jolty moments and an ending that I half saw coming and that half surprised the heck out of me.  I like to be surprised by movies, so I was half satisfied.

My wife had really been wanting to see The Orphanage, mostly on the strength of its good reviews and its association with Guillermo Del Toro, a director she worships, but only when the people in his movies are speaking Spanish.  Unfortunately, The Orphanage put her to sleep in about 30 minutes, and when she woke up, she didn’t bother to ask how it ended.  Not a good sign.

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Seeing as how I like to bash Windows now and then, I thought it would only be fair for me to note a colossal security flaw in the Debian Linux distribution (which is the basis for, among other things, Ubuntu, which I use) affecting the OpenSSL encryption software program.  This isn’t a bug in OpenSSL, but rather, it’s something that a Debian programmer did to it that amounts to, shall we say, an orchiectomy.  Basically, in order to stop some code debugging/profiling tools from complaining, somebody commented out a line of code that was evidently responsible for creating entropy (pseudo-randomness) in order to generate an unguessable encryption key.  Oopsie.  As this is not a technology blog (and I am far from a cryptography expert), I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of what happened; for those who are interested and are of a technical bent, some good articles are here and here (and here, too).

You might’ve heard of SSL.  It’s what’s used to, among other things, broker secure (“https”) connections to web sites.  I’m not sure how bad I made this issue sound, but however bad you think it is, it’s actually worse.  (On the other hand, being open source software, we at least actually know what happened to it.)

And I still don’t have a virus, Google.

Random Rejection: Sandra Dijkstra Agency, 1994

So one of the things I used to spend a lot of time on was trying to get a literary agent.  (I’ve had a grand total of three over the years, and none of them ever sold a single thing.  But that’s a different post …)

Here’s an exchange that’s pretty typical of how my interaction with a literary agent would go.  First I would send a query (possibly including sample chapters), and then I would get back something like this:

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I Love Google

I periodically Google myself, just to see if there are any new reviews or listings for my stuff.  (No new reviews since I found that one for Night Watchman back in February.  Oh well.)  However, I did find this particular search result interesting:

Who are the best living horror writers? – Yahoo! Answers

James Viscosi * Tim Waggoner * Karl Edward Wagner, (1945-1994) * H. Russell Wakefield, (1888-1964) * Robert Weinberg, (born 1947)
answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080307233734AALw1Vt&show=7 – 61k – CachedSimilar pages

Granted, the person answering the question appears to have just pasted in the list of horror writers from Wikipedia, and he didn’t even bother to weed out the dead ones, but still … look … Google says I’m one of the best living horror writers!  Are you going to argue with Google?!

Google … all is forgiven for that whole “forbidden” incident.

Free Software For Everybody: Video Editing

A few days ago, Goodbear asked about free video editing software.  This isn’t an area in which I have a lot of experience, as I don’t do much video editing (all my video is perfect as shot … :-P), so I did a little research.  Linux users have a number of choices in this area, including Cinelerra and Kino; these are the only ones I have tried (although see Blender, below).  OS X users, of course, have iMovie built in as part of the iLife suite (I’m not going to get into the whole iMovie ’08 vs. earlier versions of iMovie controversy). But what are Windows users to do?

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