Archive for January, 2020

How to read a screenplay

22 January 2020

When I got my first idea for a piece of fiction, I used the platform I was familiar with, WordPress, to present it here: https://landofdeadtrees.wordpress.com/

However, I was interested what this idea would look like as a movie, so I started a script for it (not totally finished yet). In that process, I learned a bit about how writers make scripts for movies.

The screenplay

It’s a bit of an odd-looking thing. There’s lots of room in a screenplay to scribble notes in the margins and such. The dialogue runs down the center of the page and is pretty narrow. The movie business has been using this format for years. It must work for them.

The more “scrunched” format of the ordinary novel, or even stage play, is apparently partly a function of the costs associated with printing paper books. We have become used to a printed format where most of the page is filled with words – with perhaps the occasional illustration.

Because computer files don’t require paper, it is now possible to publish movie or radio or stage scripts in the form in which they are actually used by directors, actors, technical people, etc.

The idea of publishing in this format appealed to me mainly because the punctuation rules for written dialog are so involved that I didn’t particularly want to learn them. I have read many stories written in the ordinary way, and I must say, it seems totally natural as one is reading. Yet one might notice that if you were just watching two people talking, all the “he said’s” and so forth would not be necessary, and you would have to judge their intentions and emotions by the expressions on their faces, not by extra lines in the written story. I wanted to present just a basic visual idea of how I thought a story could play out, so this “sparse” form seemed like it would suit my purposes.

Technical aspects

Somewhere it is written, “every screenplay begins with the words FADE IN and ends with the words FADE OUT.” This may be technically correct, but I saw no reason to include these in my screenplays. These are camera (or effects) instructions and most of that will be missing from pre-production screenplays. The story is carried forward through its scenes, the action and dialog between characters.

If you sit down and watch almost any modern film or video, you will notice how often the environment of the shot can change. A stage play, like the old sitcoms, might take place entirely in one location. That was a simple and economical way to tell a story. Motion pictures have always pulled away from that limitation, like radio dramas and novels before them. In a modern motion picture the viewer may even become confused about exactly where the action is taking place. In the screenplay, each change of scenery must be announced by a SCENE entry (in all caps). It is up to the Director and Cinematographer and Editor to decide whether the scene changes are obvious or confusing to the viewer.

Traditionally, any inside or indoor scene description begins with “INT.” for “interior.” And external or outside scenes start with “EXT.” for “exterior.” Though I was loose with this rule in View From The Forest, I followed it more closely in Space Captain. It is also traditional to indicate time of day in the scene header, at least “day” or “night.” In my screenplays I often left this out.

Under the scene title is the action, a description of what is going on in the scene, who appears in it and where they are located. A lot of this is up to the screenwriter. Where it seems that certain aspects of the scene should be obvious, or left up to the imagination of the Art Director (or someone else), the descriptions here might sometimes seem minimal. Technically, this description helps Art, Costumes, Props, Lights and others determine exactly what they need to provide for each scene, as well as informing the actors of what they are supposed to be doing.

The dialog consists of a narrowed column of text running down the middle of the page. It may include (parentheticals) indicating voice tone or demeanor, or whether we see the character while he is speaking or only hear him over the phone or off in some other room. Each character is announced by a short name or nickname in all caps before his lines. It is traditional for only one character to speak at a time, but there are ways to make the dialog messier if this is desired for artistic effect.

With the caveat that I am a beginner in all this, the above are the basic technical points to keep in mind while reading a screenplay.

View From The Forest

This story is offered as a short introduction to the most basic concepts of Permaculture, along with my long-lived love for trees and forests. The main characters are two trees who live side by side in a small forest. Though the idea of talking trees is not a new one, my studies perhaps give a new perspective on what they might say to each other if they really had that capability.

View From The Forest screenplay

inside the arboretum

Space Captain

Space Captain screenplay

Space Captain is a story of three ETs who get trapped on Earth in the long distant past and make peace with their fate. I got the idea from my Scientology studies, then ran into a version of the song Space Captain, which I vaguely remembered Joe Cocker doing a long time ago. The idea of the song went perfectly with my story idea, so I picked the song title for the name of this story.

Goodbye Windows 7

16 January 2020

Two days ago Microsoft officially ended its free support for Windows 7.

This means that computers connected directly to the internet may become vulnerable to criminal attempts to cripple or steal them.

Because of this, I have switched to Windows 10 on the computer I use the most. It is not the only solution, but I want to play it safe on my most important machine.

Windows 7

Windows 7 was an operating system that remained popular from the day it was introduced in 2009. It operated in a similar way to earlier versions, but was a complete overhaul of the system, and was presented in a very aesthetic and appealing way.

The story of Windows 7 started much earlier, however. Initially, Windows was developed as a graphical “shell” operating over MS-DOS, an operating system that dates back more or less to the start of personal computing. Personal computers were designed as stand-alone machines for home use. But they became so popular so fast that they became widely used in the business world.

The problem with that was that the business world was a networked world, where users had to share work and files with co-workers at the company, even sometimes in other buildings or distant locations. This had been accomplished, usually, with large “mainframe” machines running a business-strength operating system such as Unix. Unix had user accounts, login screens, passwords, multi-tasking capabilities and similar features that were needed in the business world. DOS couldn’t do these things, but as DOS machines grew in popularity, add-ons were created that allowed DOS machines to be used in a business environment.

Operating systems started going graphical in the 1980s. These were big hits with consumers and businesses. Apple also had a graphical operating system, but by creating a system that would run on less expensive generic hardware (the “IBM PC”) Microsoft won a huge share of the graphical OS market.

By the year 2000, DOS-based computing had reached as far as it needed to go. The basic concepts and features of Unix-like operating systems were reworked into products that would run on personal computers instead of mainframes. This was partially due to the pressure from Linux, an Open Source and freely distributed version of Unix that was designed to work on IBM PCs. Microsoft started with Windows NT (marketed as “New Technology” but originally named after a variety of other obscure technical developments) which became the lineage that Windows 7 is a part of. This lineage also includes, famously, Windows XP.

The Windows 7 family of operating systems kept the basic concept of “windows” developed so many years ago and added features that made the operating system a solid choice for business applications, particularly office work. The huge popularity of PCs with consumers has now died out, though many still see a notebook computer as essential. The average smart phone has much more computing power today than the PC of the mid-1990s had. This was mostly a matter of improvements in electronics technology. But for serious home users and in business, Windows 7 became immensely popular. At this late date, it is estimated that almost half of all computers in use worldwide still have Windows 7 on them. Over the course of its existence, Microsoft sold more than half a billion Windows 7 licenses.

Upgrading to Windows 10

On my machine, the upgrade to the newer Windows was very smooth. It took some time, but ran without incident, in the characteristically Microsoft style of using progress windows that tell you as little as possible about what is actually going on, using phrases such as “this may take a while.” My computer is not that old. It has two processor cores. It has USB 3.0. It has the newer UEFI form of BIOS. This latter point, in particular, I am sure helped with the upgrade.

UEFI

The Unified Extensible Firmware Interface allows for more modern electronics to be used on the computer’s main board (motherboard) and can even make the computer hardware appear like “smart” hardware on a network or similar communications system, allowing for certain kinds of remote access. Though to me this would seem to increase security risks, the industry seems to think it’s important.

When Microsoft mentions “modern” hardware, this is mostly what they are talking about. The older operating systems, as far as I know, cannot connect properly to the UEFI. So they found a way to essentially force everyone to upgrade their operating systems if they want to use modern hardware.

Alternatives to Windows

I have a version of Linux running on a small notebook that originally was running Windows 10. Certain features of Linux help it run better on machines with lower-end processors.

Beyond that, Microsoft and the Open Source community operate on significantly different philosophies of life. The Free Software movement takes this even a step further. But the basic difference is that companies like Microsoft have relatively restrictive licenses for their software products, keep most of their code a secret, and think of their end-users as “dumb” when it comes to computer systems. Open Source software on the other hand offers more lenient licenses (in some ways), requires that all source code be non-secret, and tends to think of end-users as “smart.” On top of that, the Free Software movement adds the assumption that if the source code is secret, then software companies can, and will, have things to hide about their software. The freedom of the computer user is compromised and bad control, including unwanted surveillance, can be foisted on users if they wish to use such “closed source” systems.

Though many of us see the dangers that a computer-dependent society could bring, the short-term benefits of using non-free software seem to be worth the risks. Global sanity, not revolution, is the answer to the constant problem of freedom on this planet.

Linux is not a bad alternative to Windows, though, and the newest versions from the big distributors like Ubuntu have UEFI compatibility. I ruled it out for my main machine because I had so many Windows applications I wanted to keep. But I would consider it for a new machine, or a portable. The best versions now operate very similar to Windows.

Companies with large numbers of Windows 7 machines can keep them protected if they put a good “firewall” or “proxy server” in between their internal computer network and the internet. The internet has become an extremely lawless place; internal company networks are usually much less so. I’m sure there are companies that will operate this way until their Windows 7 machines actually stop working and require replacement.

A Winter’s Trail

11 January 2020

After a short hiatus in my weekly bike rides, due to threat of rain, I returned to the trail today.

As the daytime is now once again getting longer, we can imagine a sort of “walking backwards” towards the warmer months ahead.

Geese invade Aquatic Center

This – as I have mentioned in earlier posts – is the wet season. And so, grounds which would ordinarily have little appeal to the likes of geese (who are well known for their love of open lawns) find themselves being pecked at after an early morning rain.

geese at the Aquatic Center

As usual, these birds show little fear beyond a certain desire to stay out of the way.

Wet season plants thrive

The fern fronds last inspected two or more weeks ago now show their spore sacs (sporangia, in the formal neo-Latin so common in the life sciences) more clearly. Their favorite growing places continue to be the rock piles so common along the upper part of the bike path.

fern sporophylls mature

The rocks are also covered by green moss and rather spectacular lichens. When I took the following photo, I thought that the little green branching things in the moss might be its “flowers” (sporophytes), but they appear to be new-growing seed plants.

moss growing among the rocks

The amount of growth in these rock piles is really quite something. What happens to it during the dry months? I don’t remember noticing it at all during the summer. I will have to look more closely this year.

lichen, moss and dead leaves

This almost looks like an underwater scene. These lichen are amazing!

By the way, I recently read an article about lichen – a new discovery concerning the fungal component. It was long thought that lichen consist of one fungus and one alga living in symbiosis. But in at least one lichen, a third organism was found, in the form of a second fungal, but yeast-like, component. This was determined by DNA/RNA analysis, as there is almost no way to detect the two different fungal components visually.

Woodpeckers remain elusive

A little further down the trail, a dead tree stands, proudly remaining erect, but peppered with numerous little holes made by woodpeckers in search of insects. My attempts to photograph these birds have not been highly successful, though they will sometimes at least stay in one place long enough to have their picture taken.

woodpecker on a dead tree

This bird, though obvious enough to the eye, remained in the shade, rendering my image of it less than wonderful. All the little holes stuffed – apparently – with acorns are quite clear in this photo, however. My guess is that the squirrels do that.

Doe, a deer…

Five deer showed up on this trip, all female. They were much further down-river than where I usually see them. These were grazing just outside the fence of a local organic farm (Soil Born), located right next to Hagan Park, an important part of the Rancho Cordova suburban community.

deer grazing next to organic farm

Pond Park, that’s William B. Pond

I usually take my “lunch” break at Pond Park. Technically, it’s a “Recreation Area.” It allows horse riding, fishing, and has multitudes of picnic tables. This park has been here for a long time, judging from the size of its biggest trees. The cottonwoods by my table look at least 150 years old. I can’t find any data on when the park was planted, however.

leaf skeleton

Most of the leaves on the ground look like ordinary dead leaves. But a few of them were just skeletons. I don’t exactly understand how this happened. They could be two-year-old leaves that finally fell off their branches. Or this year’s leaves that just died early and disintegrated on the tree before falling. The patterns are amazing. Very organic, yet with a regularity almost like city streets.

Old trees become fantasy images in a front yard

I had never noticed these before. Perhaps they are new. They are carvings at the tops of dead birch trees. Were they carved in-situ (where they grew)? I sort of doubt it. So perhaps these were created in a studio then installed in this front yard. Great carvings!