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May 26, 2007

Flight of the Nighthawks

Busy? Want to read a novel that will reliably give you what you expect? Are you willing to trade this reliability for the possibility of a sublime experience, which you don't have time to appreciate anyway? If so, then Flight of the Nighthawks is for you.

Raymond E. Feist is, along with Robert Jordan, the most consistent fantasy author in the business. Unlike other prolific writers in the genre who can write the occasional ass-kicker but who can also shaft us with the occasional dud (Robin Hobb comes to mind), Feist is Mr. Old Reliable. He doesn't write anything as good as Miéville's Perdido Street Station or Martin's Storm of Swords, or anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, but he's never betrayed us with something as bad as Hobb's Shaman's Crossing. (Couldn't even finish that one.) Nighthawks is solid and reliable swords and sorcery -- nothing more, but certainly nothing less.

Where Feist has the advantage over Jordan (and now Martin!) is mostly in his wise decision to write his own version of the Wheel of Time without explicitly writing any series that's longer than a standard trilogy. True, almost all of Feist's books are set in Midkemia, and all of them follow the sorcerer Pug and his various comrades and flunkies, but hey -- at least they don't say "Wheel of Time, book Seven." Maybe it's just a marketing difference, but it's a difference that makes a difference. I never want to read any Book Tens except if it's part of the history of Middle Earth.

May 25, 2007

Mark Helprin: Seventy years after I'm dead is not enough

If I were still in law school (and not post-call on the trauma service), this article from the novelist and occasional current-affairs commentator Mark Helprin would have provoked a long post many days ago: A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?

Helprin makes the provocative, because so seldom-heard, argument that copyright terms extending to 70 years after the death of the author just aren't long enough:

Congress is free to extend at will the term of copyright. It last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far as it can throw. Would it not be just and fair for those who try to extract a living from the uncertain arts of writing and composing to be freed from a form of confiscation not visited upon anyone else? The answer is obvious, and transcends even justice. No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind.
This argument deserves a reasoned refutation instead of (in addition to?) a dismissive guffaw. Helprin has wandered off into cuckoo-land here, and if I weren't so sleep-deprived, I'd tell you now why I think so.

But alas, wisdom demands that I grab a beer, curl up in bed with my book for half an hour, and go to sleep. I'm back in the hospital again tomorrow....

My apartment, the movie set

In 2009, assuming the producers don't run out of money, you'll be able to see my apartment building in the movies.

Cars and buses from the 1950s have been lined up along the street where the FedEx guys usually park, in order to transform my building into someplace in Dallas called the Aristocrat Hotel. Those of us who live here can't get in the front door today because we'd have to push through a crowd of extras in old-time suits and hats. Our running clothes and U of C t-shirts and iPods wouldn't quite fit in with the period ambience, I'm guessing.

The movie is going to be called The Express, and it's about the first black Heisman Trophy winner and #1 draft pick in the NFL, Ernie Davis. Davis died of leukemia at age 23 before playing a single professional football game -- I'm surprised it took so long to make a movie about him. Dennis Quaid is starring as Davis' college football coach, and he's the only star or crew member that I recognize by name. I'm not sure if he's going to be in any of the scenes filmed at my apartment building or not, but anyone who knows me won't be surprised to find out that I won't be hovering around hoping to get an autograph. I've never really been much of the type for that sort of thing. (There's probably only two or three people I'd try to wheedle an autograph out of, and none of them are involved with this project.)

One thing I'm always impressed by is how much organization it takes to produce a movie. Just for the scenes that are shooting at my building, they've had to close down two streets, arrange for fifteen to twenty vehicles from the 1950s including one car that says "Dallas Police," hire off-duty Chicago police officers to keep the riff-raff out from in front of the cameras, rent a vacant apartment here to hold crowds of extras in between takes, and bring in several truckfuls of lights, props, camera equipment, and canvas-backed directors' chairs. They've had to get permits to do all this from the state and the city, and they've had to pay the owners of my building an undisclosed amount of money that we've been assured will be donated to the public elementary school down the block. And I wouldn't be surprised if all of this effort turns into less than five minutes of screen-time in the finished movie.

I suppose that's why I'd love to be a movie director. All that infrastructure is set up around you, and then you get to sit in the center of it all and bend it to your will and vision. Ok, maybe that's only true for the auteur directors, and even then only part of the time, but still. It can't be a bad thing to have a job where you're basically the guy that gets to literally run the show.

May 10, 2007

Who exactly is an "idiot"?

The commenters on one of the Chicago Tribune's blog posts about "idiots" clogging up the lakefront bike path can't seem to agree on who, exactly, are the idiots. The fast cyclists? The dog walkers? Your opinion will probably depend on whether you haul ass on your bike more often than you plod along beside your lumbering doggie.

But after all the bellyaching about tourists being more likely to engage in idiotic behavior of whatever stripe, one suggestion pretty much hit the nail on the head: "If you simply banned everybody on the path who wasn't born in Chicago, you might see 3 or 4 people on it, making it much more manageable."

Sad, but probably true.

May 08, 2007

Time is my enemy; time is my friend.

As everyone knows, time passes. Sometimes it's your enemy, and sometimes your friend. Lately I've been saying to myself, "Time is my enemy; time is my friend." I repeat over and over again with a singsong cadence, as in "She loves me; she loves me not."

Now that I'm doing a month on trauma service, I can't seem to get this out of my head. Everyone who knows me knows that I love my free time and I love my sleep -- these months spent in the hospital all the time and not sleeping really crimp my style. Even though there are good enough reasons to do this (I did sign up for it after all), I go through these months like a little kid running through a cold sprinkler, with his face all scrunched up and running like hell, hoping to come out on the other end quickly.

From the time I wake up in the morning until I leave the hospital, time is my friend. Time passes, after all. Every second that goes by is one less second until I get to go home and post on my blog. Of course, when I'm home and indulging in the time I have for myself, time continues to pass. But now, it's my enemy. Every second that goes by brings me that much closer to the time when I'll have to go back to the hospital. See? Time is fickle. Or it seems that way, when I'm post-call and blogging on only two hours of sleep. :)

May 03, 2007

After this review, how can I *not* see Hot Fuzz?

From a review on Rotten Tomatoes:

Less than a week after I called Grindhouse the best movie ever made, I saw a movie I may like even more... The best made movie since Lord of the Rings.


Competitive cyclists, swimmers, and runners are almost universally enthusiastic about "interval training" -- alternating periods of mellow activity with shorter bursts of intense effort -- because in their experience, it improves performance better than any other single kind of workout. This article from the New York Times reports on some new studies that confirm this common wisdom. Interestingly, the benefits of interval training don't seem to be limited to elite athletes. If you want to get in shape, do intervals. Even if the "intense" part for you means shambling down the sidewalk fast enough to make you gasp for breath.

The explanations given in the article for why intervals are so effective for aerobic performance should make intuitive sense to anyone who regularly goes to the gym to lift weights. A muscle won't get bigger or stronger unless you regularly demand more from it than it can give (unless you "go to failure"). Apparently the same thing is true for running or riding really fast. The muscles/mitochondria/waste disposal systems that are needed for the intense stuff make the less intense stuff easier.

All of this makes me miss the mountains even more than usual. Running or riding in the hills is the easiest way I've found to get a good interval workout. When I run Gregory Canyon or Cheyenne Canyon or Palmer Park, the terrain dictates an interval workout. You don't have to waste valuable willpower telling yourself "now I'm going to go really fast." Just tell yourself not to stop, and the terrain will make you hurt without thinking about it!

(Gulp. Looking at all those pictures, now I'm *really* homesick...)