Saturday, February 09, 2002

Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, has died early Saturday morning, following a stroke and cardiac complications. The princess had been of failing health for some time, suffering the first of three strokes in 1998. More >>

The "odd man out in the royal family", the princess was known for her glamorous looks and star-crossed romances.

The Diana of Her Day

Born in 1930, Princess Margaret was only 23 when she fell in love with a divorcee, Battle of Britain pilot Peter Townsend. Facing public and private pressures over marrying a divorced man, the princess elected not to wed. They remained friends until Townsend's death in 1995.

In 1960, Princess Margaret and photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones [now Lord Snowden] were married. They had two children, became seperated after a marriage of 16 years, and finally divorced in 1978. The seperation and divorce were considered a shock by members of the public, as the royal family did not share domestic downturns publicly.

Later speculation on the princess' personal life focused on her relationship with Roddy Llewellyn, several years her junior. The princess first met Mr. Llewellyn in 1973. The couple remained friends after their romance of 8 years ended.

Patron of Arts and Children

For many years, Princess Margaret worked to protect children as president of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. A patron of arts as well, she was president of the Royal Ballet. Following her keen sense of duty and public service, she was president of several other organisations as well, including Grand President of St John Ambulance Brigade. In total, the princess was patron to over 40 organisations.

She was last seen in public during the summer of 2001, attending the Queen Mother's 101st birthday.

Princess Margaret will be well remembered by her family, close friends, and fond public. She was 71.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

LOTR parodies and other comments

I've read some Lord of the Rings film parodies and other spoofs that are absolutely hilarious.

LOTR in 5 minutes Incomplete.
The Mary Sue It helps if you read or write fanfic, to fully appreciate...the, the horror.
The 'official' parody. Eh. so-so.
Bagenders. Oh, you gotta read this.

Now, for some seriousness:

Just for the record, I have no intentions of writing LOTR fic, or reading any serious attempts. I just can't go there. And I don't think it's some "oh, it changed my world so I can't presume" kind of thing, because I've read The Hobbit two or three times, over a decade ago, and the LOTR trilogy, I believe, just once. By comparison, I've read, oh, Dragonsinger, The Dead Zone, and The Stars My Destination more times than I can recall. [*] It's just...It's's a book. Copyright infringement. You're probably asking yourself why if I let that bother me I could have written any fanfic myself. There are two things at hand here, and I'm just now sounding this out, so do bear with me:

1. shared pop culture

I've talked previously about cultural symbols -- common referents that tie a community together -- and in American culture here in the post-post-whatever-era that we live in, visual media like TV and film are paramount in distributing the images and referents we share. So, it doesn't automatically bug me if someone takes a shared symbol and puts their own spin on it [this is textual poaching, I guess, go read Henry Jenkins, or Camille Bacon-Smith's stuff if it sounds intriguing]. By doing so they're embedding the story deeper into our shared culture, enriching it, and binding our community closer together with it. The image in question has ceased to be an individual creation and has become, literally, part of the subtext of our culture, attaining a life of its own. Star Wars(TM) is a good example. How can any one human being [Lucas, natch] assert ownership over a part of our experience as Americans?

I'm all for communities and community building, and the 'unspoken' languages we use to bind them together, but then there's this, to wit:

2. It's already written down. It's not an image.

Here's the thing that, I think, gets me about pursuing bookfic: it's already been written down by the author. I can't go and work "between the lines" in a scene because it's not a scene. If an image can take the place of a thousand words, then I as the viewer make my own subtle interpretation of a visual nuance when I see that image. Depending on the nuance and presentation, I might not even notice I've made any interpretation at all. But I'm actually doing it all's the definition of "viewing experience". I'm the one doing the experiencing.

Well, if an author has written those words for that scene already, has already described that scene, I can't take the cinematic edition and write my own version and ignore the true original. I just can not. But that's only part of my objection. The other has to do with using the same media, and that's really where we get into what I consider to be major infringement.

I may observe a visual, a trick of editing, a glance, and interpret it in my own way and share that interpretation or its results with others, but I do it in a different medium than the original. My work is obviously derivative, yes, but separate and distinct from said original, concerning themes and/or stories that would never be told in the original work, and not presented in the same medium as the original. It is non-competitive. Anyone seeing my work knows immediately it is not part of the original. For these reasons, whether a court would agree or not, to me my work stands on its own and bears my copyright, as a work sufficiently divergent from the original to be new. Right or wrong assessment on my part, particularly on the subject of whether my own copyright applies, I believe this is the real reason that I can write fanfic at all. Is it all just rationalization? Could be, could be.

But. I don't hire the actors, the costumers, the cinematographer and make another version of a movie or TV episode. However, if I wrote a "missing scene" to the film Fellowship of the Ring, I'm actually doing it to not to the film but to the book, and then my work has become directly competitive with the original, and any fair use argument on my part becomes weakened. [**]

I expect to become professionally published, and I take ownership of my material seriously. And I take yours seriously as well.

Parodies and spoofs, of course, are completely legitimate "fair uses" of a work.

This is an interesting subject, and bears much thought, and like most interesting subjects, complex enough that there are few pure shades of black and white. You could certainly argue that when I read I'm applying my own interpretation as part of the reading experience, and yes, I am, but there are few books that have the overarcing impact that a film or TV show can have. Very few indeed that become part of the subtext of our shared culture.

By way of example, please raise your hands if you recognize this quote: "I'll be back." [The Terminator]. And now this one: "Uh -- would you say that your brain structure and sensory network are typically human?" [Magnificat, by Julian May]. So, maybe if I'd grown up in a culture where the primary shared referents were literary and not in visual media, I'd feel the same way about poaching books that I feel about putting my own interpretation into print of TV episodes or films. Then again, maybe not.

I really think the interpretive nature of the visual media is an important factor, as it deals with symbols that [frequently] can have more layers of meaning than an expositionary sentence.

So, when it comes to books, I shall restrain myself to the expression merely of "literary criticism", I think.

[*] Don't go thinking LOTR didn't make a real big impression on me. But you know what? When I sit down to read the trilogy over again, a full fledged grownup with a developed taste for language and history, I'm going to get much, much more out of it. I look forward to it. I really do.

The character of my use includes commentary and transformation.
The nature of the work is published [fact and imagination].
Depending on perspective [or an individual fanfic] the amount of the work used is either small or large [when I write a story using TV show characters I'm not copying any lines from a script -- but I am using the characters].
And, if this kind of use were widespread, would it compete with the original in the original's market? NO.
If I start writing bookfic, then the answer to that changes.


Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
Magnificat by Julian May
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester


The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson, screenplay adapted by Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, from the novel by J.R.R Tolkien
The Terminator, directed by James Cameron, written by James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd
Star Wars, directed by George Lucas, written by George Lucas

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

The Abacus

The abacus is really just a neat little piece of technology. I mean, think about it for a moment: it's a counting device for base-10 counting. If you're a coder, you've studied binary, octal, and hex [base 2, 8, and 16 -- note please, that the latter two are derivative of base 2], and you probably learned various little notation tricks [or came up with some] to make it easier. Same concept here.

I own a 2/5 abacus. What that means is that my abacus -- a frame holding many dowels with beads on them, is split into an "upper" and "lower" deck, so that the beads on each dowel are divided into a group of 5 and a group of 2. This then enables me to count by ones, where each upper bead represents a five, and each lower bead is just a one. Then, from right to left, the upper deck beads work like base-10 notation, settling into columns: 0s, 10s, 100s, 1000s. So that if I want to represent "10" on my abacus, only one bead, from the correct column [the 10s column] is used.

Fascinating. The thing I find so absorbing is that this is a piece of technology invented to make it easier to count on your fingers. I mean, really. It's the next logical step from finger counting when finger counting stopped being good enough. If you were counting to a hundred on your fingers, you'd have to mark every cycle through 10, right? However you chose to do it. Same thing here. So mark your counting with beads. Of course, it gets more complicated, and I sure don't know how to use mine, but I just think they're cool. Here's this technology -- this idea of a counting aid -- that's been around for literally thousands of years, and people still use a variation of 'em today. That is staying power, my friends.

Odd to Note: We always had an abacus in my house, and one of the first things I consciously did when I was living on my own AND had actual money, was buy an abacus so my home would feel...well, like home.