Saturday, December 10, 2011

Antiphony

Antiphony is, in many ways, an awe-inspiring novel. It was, I think, written in awe. Awe of science and reason. Awe of intuition and faith. Awe of the one and the many, unity and diversity. 

Writer Chris Katsaropoulos has a way of delving deeply into what seem like small moments–the whole novel takes place in just three or four daysand capturing all their nuances and vibrating tension.

Throughout Antiphony, the protagonist (a physicist researching string theory) experiences dreams and visions that fill pages the way a flash flood fills a ravinea torrent of words flowing into the space between the margins and pressing onward to the next page and the next.

It makes me wonder how he did it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Fear Factor

Dick Cheney has a memoir. We have an anthology. Here's a little sample of what you'll find in D*cked:

My name is Dick and I'm afraid all the time.

I can't stop worrying.

I worry so much I think I might explode.

I worry about America losing its power. I worry about those oil-rich nomads giving this country a giant wedgie the way the cool kids in high school did to me back in the day.

Back when I was a nerd and not the leader of the free world.

Well, de facto leader.

You think W was ever in charge? Fuck you.

Now I'm an ex, but not a has-been. Not if I have anything to say about it. And I do. I still got plenty to say.

I talk when I get nervous. Always have. And right now I'm terrified.

They don't understand what's about to happen.

And it won't be my fault. They will have only themselves to blame ...

I hear those late-night comics making fun of the way I talk, making me sound like the Penguin in the old Batman TV show. Well, that was a great show, and if you don't think so, you must be some kind of elitist snob, so shove it.

They think they're so cool. They think they can give me a virtual wedgie and just walk away—laugh all the way to the bank. I got news for them. Nobody but nobody pulls my underpants up my crack. Not anymore they don't. Virtual or otherwise.

They're the ones. Oh, yeah. They're the ones who need to live in fear.

Live in fear like I do. Like I always have. Always having to look over my shoulder.

I cannot be held responsible, I'm telling you now.

Tell them! Tell them for me that they'd better be on the alert whenever they bend over. I get one glimpse of Jockey white, one glimpse of BVD elastic, and I'm doing it, Doc.

They've pushed me too far this time.

Do any of those we-don't-torture softies ever worry, like I do, that there is going to be a whole series of attacks all across this land? Do they really think they can choose NOT to live in fear? Ha!

The new Veep thinks he's got the terrorists on the run, thinks he's reduced the threat of attack. He hasn't. He just increased it. And Jon "smarty pants" Stewart with his Daily Show saying my pronouncements have never been right—about anything. What a wiseacre. Always playing clips of me making predictions that haven't come true. Well, I know I'm right this time.

I know I'm right, because I will attack. I will go nuclear.

Oh, yeah! You'd better believe it, Doc. I will go nuclear on their asses.

Atomic wedgies all around!

Then we'll see how they like it.

I'm not kidding. This is war!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Feeling Lucky

Here's a book I highly recommend: I'm Feeling Lucky, by Doug Edwards.

Billed as "The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59," the book is insightful and inspiring and down to earth all at once.

It's fun to see how the author, an old-school marketing pro, juggled pride and humility during his tenure with a company that tended to ignore conventional wisdom.

I felt like I was right there with him.

His blog, Xooglers, is also a riot.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Teacher

My name is Bodie. I’m a shih-tzu poodle. That’s the first thing everyone wants to know. Not sure what difference it makes.

Oh, and I’m four now. That’s the other thing everyone asks about.

As far back as I can remember, Al and Joanne have always been with me. They say they adopted me, though, from a nice woman Joanne used to work for.

I heard them talking once and Al admitted he had wanted a bigger dog (which is probably why I've always preferred Joanne), but I won him over. That's what he said: I won him over. And I wasn't even trying, you know. I was just being me. Being Bodie.

My best quality? Bodie's a good boy. Just ask Al. He's always saying, "Who's a good boy? Bodie is! Bodie's a good boy!" Just like that, a dozen times a day.

I was named after a famous skier, Bode Miller, but spelled different so people can pronounce it better. I guess I was pretty laid back as a pup, nursing while lying on my back and stuff like that. They also call me the  Boy, the Dude, the Little Lebowski, the Bodester, Bodhisattva … It’s all cool.

I won't lie to you, man. I like to snuggle. Yeah, you heard me. Snuggle. So what? I can run and bark with the best of them, and I'm not afraid of anybody, but pick me up and hold me — I love that!

I’m not into the whole top dog thing, which is probably a good thing since I only weigh about seven pounds. But lots of big dogs don’t really care either. They just want to have a good time, just like me. The ones that do care? They’re just mean, so stay away from them. They’re no fun at all. Maybe they were mistreated, I don’t know. I’m sorry if they were, but I’m not a threat to anyone, so give me a break! Life is short and you should try to enjoy it as much as you can as often as you can. Know what I’m saying?

One thing I really enjoy is, every morning, I get a big breakfast biscuit — I love the taste of bacon, cheese, and eggs all in one biscuit. You should try it.

In the evening we go for walks. Me and my pack. The three of us — me and Al and Joanne — like to roam the neighborhood. Usually it’s me in the lead. I’ll go anywhere, man. Preferably someplace new — that really gets me going, you know? — but I still like the old routes, too. Like to say hi to my old friends.

Later, if I’m feeling frisky, well, there's this stuffed bear at home ... I know it's not real, and yet I see that thing sometimes and I just ... I get excited, you know?
I’m not embarrassed to admit it. I'm a dog. We do what comes naturally. It's all good.

Seriously, though, there's just one thing I really care about. My number one goal in life is to look after Al and Joanne, alert them to danger, warn away intruders, and just, you know, be there for them. You want to do it right, you got to pay attention. Be at the door when they come home. Let them know you missed them and were thinking about them.

You pay attention and you’ll know when they need you to comfort them.

It’s not hard. Just be present.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., by Sam Wasson, is a little book with a lot to say.

The title tells you where and when shooting began on a silly-yet-pivital romantic comedy — the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany's — and the book proceeds to put the whole production into the context of its time.

Think late-fifties, early sixties. The world was different then. I had forgotten how different.

What really interested me, though, was seeing how a story can be reimagined, and why this one had to be.

First of all, if you've never read Breakfast at Tiffany's, do it now. Go ahead. Go. The rest of this can wait and I don't want to spoil anything for you ...

It's stunning, don't you think, just how good Capote's comic tragedy really is. I just read it again and was astonished once more by how much feeling he was able to pack in so few pages.

But the novella — even though it provides most of the dialogue in the film and shows more than it tells — was not well suited for the screen. Not at the time.

In Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., we learn that screenwriter George Axelrod struggled with the adaptation and nearly despaired. This wasn't the typical Hollywood romance where Rock Hudson tries to bed Doris Day and she holds him off until they're married.

The central character, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn in the movie) is a Manhatten partygirl living off the largesse of rich old men. Virginity isn't an issue.

That was good because, we're told,  Axelrod had been itching to do a truly adult comedy. It was bad because he had the Motion Picture Production Code to worry about.

I watched the movie again last night and, while far from perfect, it is fascinating in its own right. Holly comes across as innocent compared to Paul, the male lead, who Axelrod reimagined as not just a struggling writer (as in the book) but one who prostitutes himself to a rich, older, married woman who leaves cash on the dresser when she leaves in the morning.

That was OK with Holly and with the censors and it all ends happily.

What I'd really like to see is a remake by the Coen Brothers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sabrina's Window

The boy who broke Sabrina's window stood on the stoop, shivering. This early in the morning it was still chilly here in the high desert, but he seemed scared, too—like he couldn't imagine anything worse than being right where he was, having done what he did.

Those are the opening lines of my novel, Sabrina's Window, which will make its debut in February.

The contract with my publisher, Luminis Books, has been signed and executed, and what makes it all the more real is that I've already seen numerous potential cover designs by the brilliant artist/photographer who did the cover of my story collection.

That would be none other than Joanne Riske.

Quite a coincidence that we share the same last name, eh?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reader, Interrupted

I recently had the opportunity to read one of my stories, "Skittish," as part of the Peninsula Literary Series.

I was especially glad to be asked because the first time I read the story out loud, in the basement of a small bar in San Francisco, it was a disaster. Live band upstairs. No microphone downstairs.

This would be different. This would be in a quiet art gallery in Palo Alto. Nothing to it.

But noooo ...

I was interrupted, time and again, by someone with a dry hacking cough—a cough that kept getting worse.

I swear I could barely get through three paragraphs before it would start up again ...

HACK! HACK!

The fact that the person coughing was me only made matters worse.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What Are You Working On?

Consider, for a moment, the importance of precision: How an exact measurement defines our progress. How it sets the new standard.

Even something as elemental as a footrace may come down to a photo finish—a thousandth of a second separating the fastest runner from the also-rans.

The naked eye isn’t enough. Not in sports, and certainly not in science.

In science, technology, and the businesses built around them, the difference between success and failure is measured in microns, milliseconds and parts per trillion.

Measurement has the power to change our understanding of the world. It tells us what’s possible now and inspires us to reach even farther.

I say all that because I happen to work for the world's premiere measurement company. We have a lot of brilliant scientists here doing things that, frankly, I can barely comprehend. I just know they're helping make the world a better place.

Recently I had the pleasure of writing about one of our research fellows, Curt Flory.

Curt is not only brilliant, he's funny and self-effacing.

"I compulsively have to know how things work," he told me. "In fact, my wife often needles me and says, 'You can’t be happy just using something. You have to know where all the electrons are going.'"

Among his achievements: Curt helped develop the cesium beam atomic frequency standard—the basis of the most precise commercial timekeeping device in the world and probably one of the most accurate pieces of instrumentation of any kind

How accurate? In a million years, such a clock would lose maybe one second, if it could run that long without exhausting its supply of cesium. So who needs that kind of precision? Try everyone who depends on the satellite-based Global Positioning System, or GPS, to figure out where they are or where they’re going.

"The thing GPS is measuring is the flight time of light, or electromagnetic radiation, and that travels really fast. So let’s imagine you’re off by a microsecond—one millionth of a second. In that time, light has traveled 300 meters. You want to be more accurate than that," he said. "So that’s a pervasive example of why timing, time synchronization, time intervals, frequency stability—all of those things—are so important."

Of course, that was some time ago. What's he working on now? I can't tell you that, but I can tell what typically happens when his wife asks the same question.

"If my wife is having trouble sleeping," Curt told me, "she’ll roll over and say, 'So what are you working on now?' Every time, I fall for it. I always think, 'She’s finally really interested.' So I start talking about it, getting all excited, and within two minutes, I hear: 'Zzzzz.' Now I’m wide awake and I have to get up and start jotting things down."