Device 6


This is an which starts of as a novel but turns into a mystery, and then a puzzle.

It can only really be played on a tablet – it is an organic story of mobile, like movies were on film reels, and comedies were on TV.

It’s so damn clever and pulls you in not through how much it has, but by how much it excludes.

The future of story…

Better Aliens

alien invasion


I love science fiction movies but recently the villains all seem to be insectoid hive brains, gigantic reptiles, or evil autonomous robots.  And they ALWAYS want to destroy humanity and consume our resources.  It’s getting too predictable.

Aliens want to destroy humanity

They travel light-years and have incredibly advanced technologies, just to destroy us?  It’s an easy comparison to Columbus and colonization and the White Navy but it’s too simple.  Especially since as species evolve and become more market driven (like ours), our propensity to wage war declines.

[on a side note, why are human weapons so lame against aliens in these weapons?  Why do we keep using small caliber arms against enemies who clearly endure as much pain as a water hose?  Wouldn’t humanity have adapted to building better weapons suited to the enemy?  This always annoys me, especially since bullets clearly don’t help in battle]

Aliens have a hive brain

This is supposed to make us feel better when our hero ultimately annihilates them but it makes the story too simple (just take out the queen / brain alien) and the enemy faceless (the soldier aliens aren’t really alive anyway).

These generalizations make aliens one-dimensional and boring.  And without an enemy that attracts sympathy as much as fear, the story must suffer as well.

Alien Robots are always evil

This was fresh with 2001 but now is overplayed, to the point where you just can’t trust robots.  Suffers from the same problem as the hive brain issue – do all robots want to kill their maker?  Seems almost like a negative Oedipal Complex.

District 9 and Avatar were refreshing because the aliens weren’t cut outs but sympathetic in some way.

But perhaps this discussion is futile.  Like mythology, these conventions are calcified into the modern storytelling process.  They are assumed and reinforced with each new box office hit.  Perhaps the question is to accept these facets of the story, as limited as they appear, but innovate on other aspects, like time travel (Edge of Tomorrow) or even morality (Ender’s Game).

And it should be easier to surprise audiences.  Nothing makes a great story than one which plays on your assumptions.


Edge of Tomorrow


I saw it.  I liked it.  But I would have tweaked a few things.


Edge of Tomorrow?  This is too grandiose and sounds like a soap opera title.  In fact, Edge of Tomorrow is the soap referenced in Hot In Cleveland (which is an excellent show featuring Betty White).

What was wrong with the original novel title, All You Need is Kill?  That’s a great title.  It doesn’t tell you it’s a sci fi novel but still, it punches you in the face all the same.


They’re not a central part of the film but these aliens are SO generic.  Every sci-fi film with an alien invasion always looks the same – it’s an insect, or a hive mind, or mass attack.  It’s time for a twist.  I don’t fault the filmmakers and writers here because it’s not central to the character or plot, I just wish they were more creative in something more clever.

Time Travel

This is the best part of the film, the main conceit taken from the novel, All You Need Is Kill.  It works so well because combat is a hard to learn skill.  Most crafts, you try, fail, and repeat but in combat failing equals death, so there is no repeat – unless you’re in this movie.  This part of the film feels modular for other sci-fi stories, if applied correctly…


I love robotics, particularly shoot, exploding, fighting ones.  This was the promise of Starship Troopers, which they should remake now given the improvements in hardware and CGI.

But he should have used the axe, like in the book, and maybe they could have shown more use in the suit itself – the book shares much more detail


The last quarter of the film turned Hollywood – just too neat and unambiguous.  A better ending would have been the aliens not completely defeated, attacking the base, and Cage (Tom Cruise’s character) volunteering to fight.  That would have shown his complete transformation from cowering to courage.

I was really hoping that when they reached the brain something unexpected would happen, like it would take him back in time to his childhood or reveal its intentions as not malevolent but misunderstood.  But that probably would have made it too complicated.

I enjoyed it – the reviews are justified.  More justified than XMen Days of Future Past, which just seemed a jumbled mess in comparison.

A different kind of burn


Pygmalion & Galetea by Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson

Henry squats and keeps his hands up, but Travis dribbles around him and tosses in the layup.  Travis smiles.

Henry moves closer and lifts his heels for more control, but Travis crosses him over, steps back, and swishes a three pointer.  Travis fistpumps.

Henry digs his elbow into Travis’s side to repel the post-up, but Travis twists left, then right, then nails the fade away jumper ala Kobe ala Jordan.  Travis laughs.

Henry’s teammates ask if he wants to switch, asks if he wants a double, asks because the team falls further behind in the score, and Henry just falls further behind.

Henry is not a bad basketball player – he performs the drills, puts in the reps, even watches YouTube videos to get better.  But playing basketball, like sketching a portrait or coding a photo filter, is an art.  The rhythm of basketball evades him; he cannot intuit steps and motions embedded in the dance of sport.

Travis is a virtuoso, a prodigy, the music of basketball pulsing in sync with his heartbeat, from his toes to his fingertips.  He dribbles with power and control, as if the ball were a harp string.  He shoots the ball with perfect form, turning his feet, dipping his elbow, and swaying his legs.  He launches each shot with high arc, and expects them all to fall through the net.

Henry leaves the game early though he is not tired nor sore.  He walks quickly to the parking lot, his teeth gnashing, his heartbeat racing.

He hears footsteps behind him and a man says, “Tough game, but good effort.”

Henry turns out around to see an Asian man in tanktop and shorts.  The Asian man was shooting a basketball on a side court in the gym.  Every time Henry went to see him, the man was swishing a jumpshot.

Henry sighs. “Yeah he got me beat.  Dude can play.”

“You got good fundamentals.”

“They don’t matter when you play a guy like that.  When you play talent like that.”

“Working hard don’t mean shit, does it?  Sometimes they’re just more talented.”

Henry smirks. “Some guys just got a gift.”

“But what if could be yours?”

Henry stares at him.  “I don’t do drugs.”

The Asian man shakes his head.  “Not drugs, something easier, less invasive.  As easy as watching a video.”  He pulls out a smartphone.


“I could explain but it’s easier if you experience it.  Watch for thirty seconds and try not to blink.  Then let’s go back on the court.”

The screen comes alive, and what starts off as a highlight reel of Stephen Curry transforms into a flickering panorama of light and color.

“I’m not going to have an epilepsy, am I?”

“No, all that flashing is meant to trigger neuronal impulses in your brain and elicit responses in your spinal nerves, particularly the ones which control body control, balance, and muscle memory.”

Henry brings his fingertips together, as if he were brushing away sand.  “There’s a strange tingling.”  The video stops.

The Asian man smiles.  “Go back to the court.”

Henry jogs back, just as the previous game breaks.  He signals to sub in.  His team tries to have him guard someone else, but Henry points at Travis.

In twenty minutes, Travis kicks the ball against the wall.  He unleashes a litany of “fuck,” twisting the word as a noun, verb, and adjective in ways its inventor never intended.  He stomps out, his head pointed to the ground like Napoleon defeated at Waterloo.

Now Henry laughs.  The Asian man smiles again.

“Keep playing, you’ve got another ten minutes or so.”

“Ten minutes?”

“This is a prototype.  But if you want more, take my card.”

It says Eugene Chun, followed by ten digits and an email address.

“Happy to be your guinea pig Eugene.”

“Email me and come by the office.   We’ve got more than just basketball.”


Reading David Mamet

on directing film

I’ve started reading books by David Mamet, the renowned director.  His lessons on storytelling and directing:

  • What a story is.  A story is a hero and his goal.  The the story should show the hero getting closer or further away from the goal. The spine of the story should hold even if all the clever dialogue, action shots, and imagery are taken away.
  • What a story isn’t.  Because film is a visual medium, adverbs, dialogue, even acting can get in the way.  The storyteller wants action, motion, images, etc. Montages, voiceovers, anything requiring explanation is poor art because you’re then “cheating” by explaining.
  • How a story is told.  Suggest, don’t show.  Respect the audience to pull the story together – you do not have to show everything that happens (Downton Abbey practiced this rule by often times showing the scene AFTER a major revelation is revealed)

Mamet reminds me a lot of Jobs and his take on design.  Fewer features, the right features, whatever helps the user, and nothing else.

Michelangelo once said a sculptor’s only job was discovering the work hiding within a block of marble.

I wonder if there is a universality of great art which is more cutting, editing, and removing everything but the work itself.

The books if you’d like to read:

Where the title comes from:

You take a knife, you use it to cut the bread, so you’ll have strength to work;

you use it to shave, so you’ll look nice for your lover;

on discovering her with another, you use it to cut out her lying heart.

The Sentimental Man Act I

Another short story…


He hears a buzz, picks up his phone, and knows it is time.  He closes the lid of his laptop and walks out of his office.

He stands in the drug store, one where they have the printers which print your photos instantly.  He plugs in his memory stick and picks, with his index finger, the photos to be printed.  The photos always the man and a woman together.

He picks the photos arrayed like panels on a floor.  Some he picks right away, one-two-three tap.  Others he picks…and lingers.  In one pause he smiles, another he sighs, and for the last photo, the one where he waits the longest, his fingers frame the photo, as if the photo were sacred.

After the photos are printed, he flips through them like a poker hand.

He drives home, and sitting on his desk is a thin album.  He takes the stack of photos, choose a photo, pastes it onto a page, and writes a short note underneath.  He does this for each photo, all fifteen of them.

She arrives home carrying a bag candles and right before her key enters the lock, the man opens the door with the album in hand.  They embrace.

They sit together on the couch and she opens the album.  With each page she reads the caption, but the man explains the story behind the photo anyway.  One wonders why he wrote the caption to begin with.

One photo she smiles.

Another she laughs.

Another she blushes.

And another, she holds her hand to her mouth, her eyes widen, and she blinks away the tear before it falls.  She kisses him after this photo.

Finally they are at the last photo, and the man’s face is blushing.  He is the one blinking away the tears.

He picked this photo last, the one where they were in the grocery store, the one where he realized, the one which changed everything.

He has told her this story already, maybe too many times, but he knows she loves to hear it.  Each time she always smiles and calls him a corn dog.  The predictable joys all couples have.

But this time she stares at him.  Her eyebrows furrow.  She looks up, down, to the left, then the right.

He frowns and pulls his head back.

She stares back at him.  She quickly flips through the other photos too quickly, bending the pages, wrinkling the plastic covers, as if the photos were hiding something.

He places his hand on her shoulder.

She throws the album to the ground and places her hands on her face.

The man wraps his arm around her while she sobs.  He then pulls her face close to his, and as he kisses her cheek, his index finger and thumb pinch her left ear.  The woman suddenly goes limp, as if she has fainted suddenly.

He strokes her hair, then takes out a rectangular device.  The device emits a beam onto the woman’s head, like a scanner on a barcode.  After he waves the beam over her skull, the device emits a pleasant beep.  The man turns the device around, revealing a small screen which shows a number, 98%.

When it comes to memories, especially the ones which force your breath, losing 2% can be the same as losing everything.