Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Saturday, August 05, 2006
Pop quiz
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:50 PM

Got bored this morning and started taking quizzes:

You Are Boston
Both modern and old school, you never forget your roots.
Well educated and a little snobby, you demand the best.
And quite frankly, you think you are the best.

Famous people from the Boston area: Conan O'Brien, Ben Affleck, New Kids on the Block

How You Life Your Life
You seem to be straight forward, but you keep a lot inside.
You tend to avoid confrontation and stay away from sticky situations.
You prefer a variety of friends and tend to change friends quickly.
You tend to dream big, but you worry that your dreams aren't attainable.

Your Personality Is Like Cocaine
You're dynamic, brilliant, and alluring to those who don't know you.
Hyper and full of energy, you're usually the last one to leave a party.
Sometimes your sharp mind gets the better of you... you're a bit paranoid!

You Are 24% Sociopath
From time to time, you may be a bit troubled and a bit too charming for your own good.
It's likely that you're not a sociopath... just quite smart and a bit out of the mainstream!

And then, I got two different answers for the What Type of Writer Should You Be?, depending how I answered the question What inspires you?

  • "What if" scenarios
  • You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer
    Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.
    And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.
    Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...
    Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!
  • Your favorite books and movies*
  • You Should Be a Film Writer
    You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind.
    You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life.
    Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling.
    And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

    (I was thinking about fanfic here...)

    Posted by Lis Riba at 12:11 PM

    I put in a library request for James Shapiro's Shakespeare and the Jews. I chose to have it delivered to the library branch closest to my office, figuring that would be most convenient.

    I kept checking my library login Friday afternoon to see if it was in, but it wasn't.

    I just got the notice that my hold/request is available.

    Did I mention that my workplace is over a halfhour's drive away? And in the opposite direction from everyplace else we're going today?

    Grendel's Mom has got it going on
    Posted by Lis Riba at 10:55 AM

    I'm used to Hollywood movies coming in pairs. Two asteroid-hitting-the-earth movies. Two volcano blockbusters. Two CGI-insect flicks...

    But now, we're facing a three-fer.

    At Ian's request, I checked IMDB.

    The middle one is the version with Neil Gaiman and an all-star cast. [Official site]

    Thursday, August 03, 2006
    The Write Stuff
    Posted by Lis Riba at 10:04 PM

    So, now that I've got them online in a friendlier format, I've been rereading my stories.

    And I've come to a surprising realization:

    I'm a pretty good writer!

    It surprises me sometimes how much enjoyment I find rereading things that I wrote.

    ...Now, if only I could finish more of the darned things.

    All this work on the site, and I haven't written much further on my current WIP. I have an ending in sight and know more-or-less what's supposed to happen between here and there. I've been writing pages of notes, but fingers to the keyboard just ain't happening.

    I haven't given up yet. It's a Percy-centric story, and my goal is to finish it by August 22nd, which is his birthday (according to Rowling).

    And now I'm just rambling, so I should post this and get some sleep now that the weather has finally cooled down.

    Site updates
    Posted by Lis Riba at 6:45 PM

    Been working on the website this past week.

    Got a few new pages, and finally polished and posted a couple old ones.

    First of all, I've created two more lists to accompany my Marlowe in Modern Fiction list.

    They are:

    1. Elizabethan SF & Fantasy Fiction: Modern science fiction and fantasy set in Elizabethan England, and
    2. Elizabethan Theatre Fiction: Modern fiction set among Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the London theatre community of the period

    I still have some work to do reviewing/evaluating some more recent finds, so if you know of missing titles that belong on either list, leave a comment and let me know.

    Secondly, I finally took a few of my older fanfics and posted them in a better format. Neither story is complete, but I do include a post-mortem on each regarding where it went wrong and summing up the rest of the narrative.

    You can open the stories directly at Possession and Second Chances. More details on each can be found on my Fanfic page.

    And last but not least, I've added a Sitemap of the entire website. Find out what you've been missing...

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006
    Is anybody there?
    Posted by Lis Riba at 8:50 PM

    It's been twenty-four hours since I posted this and I haven't gotten a single response.

    Does anybody care? Or are you all so impressed with my thoroughness that you haven't anything to add. [Feedback that the criteria are okay is good, too!]

    Speaking of movies...
    Posted by Lis Riba at 7:45 PM

    Back in college, a language professor shared with the class the following, admittedly sexist adage:

    “Translations are like women: when they are beautiful, they are rarely faithful, and when faithful, they are seldom beautiful.”

    I don't often deal with works in translation, but soon decided that it applies equally well* to film adaptations of books

    *Meaning, it may be true for translations and adaptations, but not women.

    Although it's pithy, I'll acknowledge that it isn't universally true.

    I would count The Princess Bride as one of the few adaptations that manages both beauty and faith (although, of course, the movie is not perfectly faithful to the book -- omitting Buttercup's family and friends, for example).†

    And I say this as someone who so adored the book before the movie's release that she refused to watch any publicity for the film, to avoid a bad film sullying my memories -- as had happened with Disney's The Black Cauldron.

    Gone with the Wind likewise streamlines the story (discarding a few children from the book), but also hews fairly close.

    And, I get the impression that many people believe the same of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings.

    But these are exceptions.

    Beautiful, faithful movie adaptations are the rarity and not the rule.

    This thought often comes to mind when people talk about movie adaptations they'd like to see.

    If I really love the original work, I often wonder why?

    Now, I can have as much fun as anyone in casting discussions, but given the risks, I'm generally quite pleased to keep such films within the realm of imagination.

    No one expects the banish'd intermission!
    Posted by Lis Riba at 6:15 PM

    A few weeks back, when talking about Lawrence of Arabia, I started wondering:

    What was the last mainstream (non arthouse) motion picture to have an intermission?

    Lawrence had an intermission (with a brilliant pitch for lemonade right before the break), so the change happened sometime after the mid-1960s.

    I can see how modern multiplex design prohibits intermissions -- both the risk of people sneaking into other movies and the security issues of people leaving possessions unattended at their seats.

    But I think the current crop of moviemakers have forgotten Alfred Hitchcock's famous quote:

    “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”

    So, in my own obsessive way, I started looking for the answer.

    I found two articles by film critics that make the same assertion:

    “So far as I can tell, the last film to be presented with an official intermission was Gandhi, back in 1982.”
              — Leonard Maltin
    “The last intermission in a mainstream movie bisected "Gandhi" in 1982. The breaks were discontinued so more screenings could be packed into the day. Also, multiplexes were emerging in the early 1980s. Intermissions make it hard to keep track of multiplex patrons -- who could take advantage of the extra traffic to sneak into several movies without paying.
    For a long time the disappearance of intermissions wasn't much of a problem. But in the past half-decade, the amount of 180 minutes-plus movies seems to be increasing to a level not seen since the early 1970s.”
              — Peter Hartlaub, SF Chronicle

    But surely the trend was already well underway before that. Is there any way we can see the shift?

    Wikipedia has pages listing Films over three hours long and Films over four hours long. [They also have pages for longer films, but much over four hours and you're definitely into arthouse/cult territory, which aren't relevant for these purposes.]

    I went through those lists, weeded out the non-mainstream films and those too old (before the mid-1960s). I scoured Wikipedia and IMDB for each movie's length and whether or not it had an intermission. And then I threw the whole lot into a table to look for the patterns.

    Fifty-two titles in all.

    On my own, I've been able to find out about intermissions for three-quarters of them.

    Thirteen are still undefined, mostly films released during the late-1970s and early-1980s. [And, of course, my sources may be wrong on some of the others.] If you've got additional information, please share it with me so I can correct the list.

    Anyway, here's what I've got:

    Link to the table

    Some interesting trivia:

    • The Godfather, Part II is 25 minutes longer than the original Godfather.
      Yet the earlier (shorter) movie had an intermission, and the later (longer) movie didn't.

    Oh, and Leonard Maltin was wrong, at least by my judgments of what is and isn't mainstream...

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006
    How hot is it?
    Posted by Lis Riba at 9:55 PM

    So hot that every time I step outdoors, my glasses fog...

    Elizabethan SF & Fantasy Fiction: Criteria
    Posted by Lis Riba at 8:30 PM

    A long time ago, I threatened to compile a list of Elizabethan SF & Fantasy.

    Having a little spare time, I've started to put the page together, and I'm working out my criteria for inclusion.

    Here's what I came up with:

    The following rules determine a work's qualifications for inclusion:

    • Work must have been published within my lifetime (1970 or later).
    • Professionally published works or prepublication works by professional authors only. I'm not scouring the web for fanfic.
    • Must be a work of fiction. I will not include avant-garde theories or roleplaying sourcebooks.
    • Must be set (at least in large part) in England or Scotland.
      • Fantastic analogues do not count (e.g. Moorcock's Gloriana).
    • Must be set (at least in large part) sometime within the reigns of Mary I and James I, 1553 - 1625. [I'm using a generous definition of period.]
      • Does not count works that merely reference the period but do not have at least one scene during these times.
        • For now, I'm excluding stories about long-lived characters who recall memories from period, or modern characters dealing with past lives or reincarnation.
    • Must include some fantastic element within the story: SF or fantasy.
      • Does not count if the only SFF element is a time-travel plot-device to bring protagonists into period. There are some extremely good stories of this type (see my Elizabethan Theatre fiction list for several) but not for this list.
      • The same holds for protagonists of extreme longevity or immortality (including vampires), if that's the only fantastic element.
      • Alternate histories can be considered fantastic settings, even if they have no further fantasy elements (e.g. Ruled Britannia).
        • Authorship differences alone do not count as an alternate universe. Same thing goes for Marlowe surviving Deptford.
        • Alternate histories which diverge during period, but are set later (e.g. Pavane) do not count.
      • For now, I'm excluding media tie-in works, such as Doctor Who novels.

    I've designed these rules to keep the list a managable project, but if other people don't find them useful, then I'm just wasting my time.

    So now, my questions:

    1. Do these criteria make sense?
    2. Are these too restrictive or too generous?
    3. Would you find a list compiled by these guidelines helpful?
    4. Any changes you recommend to make the resulting list more useful?

    PS: Please don't send me matching titles just yet. I've already got nearly thirty on my draft list.
    Please wait for me to first post the initial list, so you can check whether I've already got them.

    — Thanks.

    Sunday, July 30, 2006
    Much better 'bout books
    Posted by Lis Riba at 9:30 PM

    After moping about having nothing to read, I talked Ian into going to the nearest bookstore (a Barnes & Noble). Didn't find anything I was looking for in the regular sections, and I was about to just walk out empty-handed, when on the clearance racks, I came across several copies of The Bible Timeline. I pointed it out to Ian, and he thought it'd be perfect for class. So I talked him into buying two copies, just in case.

    Once the ice was broken, we scoured the clearance and bargain racks and came away with quite a haul. We actually found a few more books after checking out the first time, so made two trips to the register. Fortunately, the register wasn't crowded and the clerk was quite a pleasant fellow. We chatted briefly about various matters, and I liked him enough that I actually Googled the names of his cats to see if he had a blog or LJ to friend.

    The books we bought for me were:

    All hardcover, and none more than $6.98 apiece. See how much money I saved? :)

    I also found a Harry Potter Lumos booklight at 75% off, plus one of the softcases (though they only had Hogwarts and Slytherin crests, no Ravenclaw). Also, I was croggled to see a single bookflip on the clearance rack, so I scooped that up too.

    Ian also made a good haul, coming away with the two copies of The Bible Timeline, plus The Timechart History of the World, US Army Survival Manual, and Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague De Camp.

    How was your evening?

    PS (added later): Ian and I are such bad influences on one another:

    "You think I should get this?"
    "Sure, go ahead."
    "Okay, I will."
    "Well, since you're getting one more book, then I can get this...

    It's only fair, right? Makes perfect logical sense.

    Hot Laps (Houlihan?)
    Posted by Lis Riba at 6:30 PM

    My laptop gets awfully hot after I've been using it for a while.

    I keep hearing dramatic stories of Dell laptops catching fire (with photos), and since my laptop's also a Dell, naturally I'm paying attention.

    I know that last year, Dell issued a battery recall due to overheating problems.

    I've checked the battery's serial number against Dell's list of affected batteries, and officially it's not one of the covered models. [Mine is F5135; F5132 is the closest qualifying S/N]

    [I just found out about the A/C adapter recall, but my machine is apparently okay there, too.]

    Maybe all these new cases are people who had bad batteries but didn't send them in for replacements.

    Or maybe this is a new problem, and my machine's at risk.

    I don't know, but I don't like the uncertainty.

    Posted by Lis Riba at 6:24 PM

    Earlier today, I finished reading The Double Life of Doctor Lopez: spies, Shakespeare and the plot to poison Elizabeth I by Dominic Green.


    With books on Marlowe, a major differentiating factor is how a particular author explains the motives behind the murder. In this case, the ongoing question is: "Was Lopez guilty of the accusations against him, or was it a setup?" Yesterday, I pointed out that the story is more complex than commonly portrayed. But since the conclusions are probably a selling point, I think I'll preserve the mystery.

    Green does make a very persuasive case, but I'd heard of other recent historians who came to the opposite conclusion with equal certainty. Just as biographies of Mary, Queen of Scots, can reach wildly different conclusions based on interpretations, this made me suspicious.

    However, I just read an online case summary by someone arguing the other side. It looks like he's the author of a broader history on Jews in England, and may not have delved into the less obvious evidence, such as personal accounts, that Green gathered. In fact, all of the online summaries (Wikipedia's and elsewhere) I've checked since finishing the book are woefully incomplete compared to the evidence Green gathered.

    In other words, I'm convinced.

    The book isn't flawless, however.

    Critics have complained about Green's... florid... language, and sometimes his metaphors may be a bit much.
    Still, I can't help but be amused by passages like this:

    The same extravagance Essex showed his tailor was applied to information gathering. Anthony Bacon turned Essex House into an intelligence factory, a paranoid variation on the Renaissance ideal of a fraternal house of intellect.


    Like the Italian acrobat who had celebrated Elizabeth's accession by walking up a tightrope to the steeple of St. Paul's, [an agent working for multiple sides] did not have to worry about which way he fell, only that he landed on his feet.

    The sheer number of names, often very similar (and interrelated) can get quite confusing at times, particularly when a name pops up that hasn't been mentioned for several chapters. It's easier when reading it all in large chunks, but if you're trying to read in many short spurts (say a chapter at lunch and another few before bed), keeping track of everyone can be problematic.

    On the other hand, I loathe the endnote format. It's my ongoing complaint with modern nonfiction. They're great reads, but authors make it needlessly difficult to check references on any particular quote or stat.
    The Devil in the white city is particularly culpable in this regard. The author makes some detailed conjectures about how several of the murders were committed on the barest of evidence. The endnotes make this clear, but within the text it looks no different than the better-sourced details. The lines between nonfiction and fiction are blurring, and I don't like it...

    Still, on the whole in this book, I feel I came out ahead, and would recommend it for anyone wanting a bit more insight into Elizabethan espionage.

    And now, yet again, I'm facing my semiregular dilemma:

    Elizabethan espionage is incredibly dense, so I think I'm in the mood for something somewhat lighter.

    What do I read next?

    Current stack of unread books on loan from various libraries include:

    So far, none of these are really grabbing me, so recommendations welcome.

    [If I had immediate access to James Shapiro's Shakespeare and the Jews, I think I'd jump on that, but I don't so can't.]

    Speaking of books: ages ago, Allergy: the history of a modern malady caught my eye.

    The book is now out on the shelves, and The Guardian has a review. Apparently, in the 19th and early 20th centuries,

    It was widely accepted that only “persons of cultivation” suffered from allergies. In EM Forster's Howards End (1910), hay fever appears as the “embodiment of innate cultural refinement”, Jackson writes.

    BTW, when I wandered into Harvard Square last night, a few other new (and remaindered) books that caught my eye:

    Tyg, do you need a copy of that last title?



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