May 29, 2014

On Bigotry and Prejudice

Maya Angelou
by trueartist83
"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends." Because "[p]rejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible."
~Maya Angelou

These are points I've tried to express at the center of my current trilogy, though my mountains of words seem so clumsy compared to her few, poignant ones. 

A little about Maya Angelou:
Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, MO in 1928, Maya was an all-around artist: singer, dancer, actress, composer, movie director, writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet! Not only that, but she was also a civil rights activist, a professor, served on presidential committees, and has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In short, she was a true "global renaissance woman." 

She passed away onto the next world just yesterday.

For more about her and her works:

Video - Dr. Angelou recites "And Still I Rise":

May 27, 2014

A Note On Pacing

As I have a tendency to do, I'm currently reading about 4-5 books at the same time, depending on my mood. One of these is Starting Point: 1979-1996 by Hayao Miyazaki. Yesterday, I read the Foreword derived from a 2005 interview in Ghibli of John Lasseter (one of the founders of Pixar). In it, Lasseter made some very interesting comparisons between Miyazaki's work and Hollywood, and how Pixar drew inspiration from the former to make Pixar's stories more emotional.

And the key is in the pacing...

"There's a term that a certain studio executive used when he sensed a movie was starting to slow down. He'd say, "I'm going for popcorn." He felt that unless a movie raced nonstop to its conclusion, an audience would inevitably lose interest. I totally disagree with him. Things don't need to be faster all the time.


The co-director on the Toy Story 2 movie was Lee Unkrich--he was also the editor for all of our films. I turned Lee on to Miyazaki-san's films, and we've had many discussions about how Miyazaki-san is a master of pacing. There are certain moments in a film you cannot rush through It's important to allow the audience to reflect on what's happening on the screen.

I remember reading reviews of Toy Story 2 when it was first released. Many critics mentioned that it had an Toy Story's success. You need that component to reflect pathos, sadness--all those heartfelt emotions. Like I've said before, you just can't rush those things."
emotional depth lacking in most animated films. In fact, they were surprised to discover that a cartoon could deliver such depth. I am very proud of that. Most of the critics didn't specifically mention the movie's pacing, but to me that was the key to

I believe this is an important point, not just in animation, but in any story telling venture.  Something I need to remind myself of it too, since I have a tendency to wonder if my books are getting boring whenever I have no-action sequences. Instead, I should use these slower moments to elevate the emotional aspects of my characters.

May 20, 2014

16th Century Timbuktu

Nicholas Belton 
/ via npr
Am currently reading a little bit more about the history of Africa--a continent I know very little of, though my mother was born there.

Here's an interesting excerpt I just read from a letter written by Askia Muhammad al-Turi about the customs in his Songhai Empire (which don't quite jibe with him), in which he asks for help in fixing the "problems" he observed:

Among the people, there are some who claim knowledge of the supernatural through sand divining and the like, or through the disposition of the stars ... [while] some assert that they can write (talismans) to bring good fortune ... or to ward off bad fortune .... Some defraud in weights and measures...
One of their evil practices is the free mixing of men and women in the markets and streets and the failure of women to veil themselves ... [while] among the people of Jenne it is an established custom for a girl not to cover any part of her body as long as she remains a virgin ... and all the most beautiful girls walk about naked among people ...
So give us legal ruling concerning these people and their ilk, and may God Most High reward you.

(From The African Past, transl. by J.O. Hunwick)

Sand divining - a Dogon shaman "calling" a fox.
National Geographic

I don't know about you, but the historian and the fantasist in me are now itching to write a story that takes place in this setting... I love it that the cousins Gareth and Gauvain come from here--it's no wonder they're so great at EM!

The Heritage of World Civilizations

May 13, 2014


I'm not a clairvoyant and certainly don't own a time machine, but I'm pretty sure that as soon as humans (or their ancestors down the evolution tree) were able to not only admire the night skies but also their immensity, they must have wondered if there was anything or anyone else out there (cue in gods, angels, ghosts, or "fireflies stuck that, stuck on that big bluish-black thing").

And, of course, as science evolved as well as humans (assuming everything evolves linearly), so too did our concepts of what could be out there, including other inhabitable planets with little ETs roaming about and pointing at each other with their glowing red-tipped indexes. Which spurred a whole new form of scientific research--that for life outside of earth.

It is on such a quest that, in the summer of 1977, a volunteer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program named Jerry Ehman, recorded a signal from outer space. The radio signal (or the "Hydrogen frequency" for those engineers out there who are prickly about details), coming from the Sagittarius constellation (near the Tau Sagittarii star to be precise, about 220 light years away), lasted 72 seconds, and was recorded as '6EQUJ5'--circled in red with a 'Wow!' beside it.

The sequence described here "describes the intensity variation of the signal" from 0 to 10, then letters for anything higher than that (with 'U' standing for 30-31 standard deviations above the mean of the background noise caught by the antenna). People were even more excited about this signal noting the fact that it matches the hydrogen line and it's believed hydrogen is the most common element in the universe so aliens could use it to transmit signals.

However, the signal has never been repeated and scientists have speculated that if the signal had been transmitted by extra terrestrials, it would have had to have come from a highly advanced civilization that would have used a 2.2-gigawatt transmitter. In the meantime, the Arecibo Observatory sent out a responding signal in outer space containing information from 10,000 Twitter feeds (I shudder to think what any ET would think of us if he/she/it were to receive and decipher it!).

Arecibo message:
(1) numbers 1 to 10
(2) atomic numbers of elements H, C, N, O, P
(which combined make up the DNA)
(3) formulas for the nucleotides of the DNA
(4) the number of nucleotides in DNA + double helix
(5) human figure + avg. height of man and tot. population
(6) solar system
(7) Arecibo telescope and transmitter antenna dimensions
Seti League article
Discovery News

May 6, 2014

Haunted Island Up For Grabs

Poveglia Island by Jim Nolan

Italy, home to Dante Alighieri who famously wrote about his journey through hell in Inferno (first act in his Divine Comedy trilogy, shall we say), is also the home to what is known as "hell on Earth"--a tiny island in the lagoon just off the famed city of Venice.

Why is it haunted then?

Well, here are a few points from its interesting history:
Povaglia Asylum

  • It was used as a refuge from barbarian invasions (starting around the time of the fall of the Roman Empire)--to little use as the island still saw many a battle.
  • It was used as a quarantine place for thousands of people suffering from the plague during the Black Death sweep over Europe (1348-50).
  • It became a quarantine location again in the late 1700s are more outbreaks of plague hit the region.
  • A building on the island was redeveloped in 1922 into a mental asylum where people were supposedly a Hannibal-like psychiatrist tortured his patients before committing suicide.
Today, though the public isn't allowed to visit, thousands of human skeletons pave its grounds like some macabre death roads. But, if this doesn't deter anyone, the island is currently up for auction (May 2014). Anyone interested?

A mass tomb on Poveglia