Blogging the New CD: T is for Ten Thousand

This is the penultimate post in a series about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

When I write filk songs, I sometimes mash together in one song different science fiction or fantasy stories, movies, or ideas. In “Ten Thousand Years Ago”, which is actually the first song on my new CD, I included references to Highlander, the first movie of that franchise; some key elements of Doctor Who; vampire stories in general, with allusions to one recent series in particular; and the first Harry Potter book, all in an attempt to create a funny song.

If I had been born 10 thousand years ago
At the dawn of civilization, one thing that I know
Is that if I had been born 10 thousand years ago …
I’d be dead by now

Unless, that is, I was immortal
Like that fellow in that movie where there could “be only one”
But I’m not a very good swordsman, so if I met the Spaniard or the Kurgan
I’m pretty sure I would be done

“Ten Thousand Years Ago”

Guilty Viewing Pleasures: Highlander
“If I met the Spaniard … I’m pretty sure I would be done.” (Image: “Guilty Viewing Pleasures: Highlander,” by Ingrid Richter, on Flickr under Creative Commons even though she probably didn’t have permission to reproduce the image either.)

When I first wrote this song, it consisted of just the chorus (and the time period was only 1000 years) — in other words, it started out as a simple joke, kind of a sung one-liner. Then I added the verse about Highlander, and decided to try to expand the song with other immortality or longevity references. The second verse I came up with, though, was about zombies; it seemed to work well enough when I sang the song at conventions, but when the time came to record the final vocals I decided I didn’t like that verse anymore. So the morning before I was going to record, I wrote a new second verse about Doctor Who. I like that verse, so I think the final recorded track turned out much better than that intermediate version.

But only you can decide if it’s truly funny. I hope “Ten Thousand Years Ago” gives you a chuckle!

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Blogging the New CD: F is for a Faded Coat

Sixth in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

If you don’t know who the Browncoats are … well, you will after reading this post.

My brave lad sleeps in his faded coat of brown.
In a lonely grave unknown lies a heart of love renowned.
He sank faint and hungry among the famished brave,
And they laid him sad and lonely within his nameless grave.

“The Faded Coat of Brown”

In the future envisioned in the TV show Firefly and its follow-on movie Serenity, the Union of Allied Planets (“the Alliance”) fought a civil war — and in some ways a war of pacification — against the independence movement that came to be identified with the brown coats its members wore. The captain of Serenity, Malcolm Reynolds, fought with the Independents along with his first mate Zoe, and they both maintain a fierce independent streak throughout the show.


The most famous Browncoat of all, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Image from The Firefly and Serenity Database.

The idea for this song came from outside of Firefly, however, because it’s an adaptation of an 1865 song called “The Faded Coat of Blue” — a song that evokes the anguish of a parent whose son never returned from the Civil War. I don’t recall when I first had the notion of changing every “blue” in the original song to “brown” (which necessitated changing all of the accompanying rhymes) but it seemed as if it would make a fitting tribute. And not only a fitting tribute, but that it could make sense in the context of the Firefly milieu.

One aspect of the future that crept into different episodes of the series is the recollection of “Earth that was” — the past planetary home from which humanity spread out. It seemed to me that some of the music of the distant past might survive, and that some resistance fighter might adopt an old song to reflect the struggles and sacrifices of a new war. And I thought it might not matter that the original song was written about a Union soldier rather than a Rebel, because the sacrifices are similar on both sides.

No more the bugle calls the weary one.
Rest, noble spirit, in thy grave unknown.
I’ll find you and know you when the final trumpet sounds
And a robe of white is given for the faded coat of brown.

“The Faded Coat of Brown”

I hope I maintained the poignancy of the original, even as I adapted it to the fictional universe of Firefly. You can decide for yourself if you listen to “The Faded Coat of Brown”. I hope you like it.

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One last note: Many Browncoat fan groups around the country sponsor showings of Serenity and other events to raise money for charity. I hope they like the song, too!

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Exploring Earth’s Atmosphere, a Lunar Flyby, and a Space Odyssey

Fifty years ago today — April 2, 1963 — two quite different launches happened in the U.S. and the Soviet Union.


(Explorer 17. NASA image.)

The U.S. launched Explorer 17, also known as Atmospheric Explorer A, the first in a series of satellites to study the upper atmosphere. The satellite launched in the late evening — already April 3rd, UTC — on a Thor-Delta rocket out of Cape Canaveral, and operated until its batteries failed in July 1963.

Earlier in the day, the Soviet Union had launched Luna 4, the “first successful spacecraft of their ‘second generation’ lunar program.” It launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Molniya rocket — a Modified SS-6 (Sapwood) ICBM. Interestingly, the USSR did not reveal Luna 4’s intended mission, but “was announced it would travel to ‘the vicinity of the Moon.'”

Rather than being sent on a straight trajectory toward the Moon, the spacecraft was placed first in a 167 x 182 km Earth orbit and then was rocketed in a curving path towards the Moon. Luna 4 achieved the desired initial trajectory but during trans-lunar coast the Yupiter astronavigation system failed (most likely due to thermal control problems) and the spacecraft could not be oriented properly for the planned midcourse correction burn. Communications were maintained, but Luna 4 missed the Moon by about 8400 km (sources give reports of 8336.2, 8451, and 8500 km) at 13:25 UT on 5 April 1963 and entered a 89 250 x 694 000 km equatorial Earth orbit. The spacecraft transmitted at 183.6 MHz at least until 7 April. The orbit is believed to have been later perturbed into a heliocentric orbit.

… It was speculated the probe was designed to perform a soft landing on the Moon based on the trajectory and on the later attempted landings of the Luna 5 and 6 spacecraft, as well as the advances made over the 3 years since the successful Luna 3 flyby. (And the fact that a lecture program entitled “Hitting the Moon”, scheduled to be broadcast on Radio Moscow at 7:45 p.m. the evening of April 5, was cancelled.)

Before all of this happened, on this date 55 years ago President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent “draft legislation to Congress establishing the ‘National Aeronautics and Space Agency.'” The name was soon changed to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. You can read more about NASA’s beginnings here.

Finally, 45 years ago today — April 2, 1968 — 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered at the Uptown Theatre in Washington, DC. This page includes a retrospective on its early run.

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What's This? Brad Pitt to Play Me in a Movie?

Hey, I was as shocked as anybody when I saw the headline, but according to Screen Rant, Brad Pitt has signed on to play The Gray Man.

It turns out, contrary to what you may have heard, thought, dreamed, or laughed at, The Gray Man is not about yours truly or even my Pawley’s Island-based alter ego, but is the title character of the 2009 bestselling thriller The Gray Man by Mark Greaney. I think if I’d ever seen that book I would’ve bought it just for the title — it’s a shame I haven’t heard about it before now.*

However, lest anyone think that I’m just trying to jump on the “Gray Man” bandwagon at the last minute,** here’s yours truly speaking at his 2006 USAF retirement ceremony:


(The Gray Man Speaks. The hard hat lettering was done by then-TSgt Steve Clay while we were stationed at Offutt AFB, 1998-2000. USAF photo.)

Even if it’s not about me,*** I wish them the best of luck.

But I think they should fill the cast and crew with people named “Gray,” and people who are related to me.

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*Especially since I’ve been trying to figure out a Gray Man-themed series of my own since Dragon*Con 2007.
**On the contrary, I’m on my own bandwagon which will happily follow along with theirs for a while.
***As I keep reminding myself, per the first line of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life.

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Space Destinations, On Film and In Orbit

Sixty years ago today — June 27, 1950 — “Destination Moon” premiered in New York. Produced by George Pal and partly written by SF Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein, it was one of the first films to realistically depict a trip to the moon. This Wikipedia article goes into more detail about the movie and its influence.

Forty-five years later, on this date in 1995, the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-71, to a destination no shuttle had ever visited before: the Russians’ Mir space station. U.S. astronauts Robert L. Gibson, Charles J. Precourt, Ellen S. Baker, Gregory J. Harbaugh, and Bonnie J. Dunbar traveled to Mir along with cosmonauts Anatoly Y. Solovyev and Nikolai M. Budarin.


(STS-71 launch. NASA image.)

STS-71 was the 100th human spaceflight launched by the U.S., and represented the first time part of a shuttle crew changed out while in orbit: Solovyev and Budarin as the crew of Mir increment 19, while the Mir 18 crew — astronaut Norman E. Thagard and cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Gannady Strekalov — boarded Atlantis for the ride back to Earth.

Now, if we could only get back to heading for destinations like the moon …

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POTUS and Batman

Read a fascinating essay today that examined the good-vs.-evil theme of THE DARK KNIGHT, and especially the temptation to give up the fight because innocent people have gotten hurt — despite the fact that giving up the fight leaves the evil people free to perpetrate even more evil — and compared the theme to the decisions President Bush has had to make with regard to prosecuting the Terror War.

The essay is here.

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

This was a great question, considering the spate of anti-Terror War movies that tanked at the box office compared to THE DARK KNIGHT’s record-setting draw:

Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense — values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right — only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like “300,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Narnia,” “Spiderman 3” and now “The Dark Knight”?

And as one who swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” — and whose main regret with respect to my service is that the closest I got to the war zone was the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan — I could really relate to this section:

Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They’re wrong, of course, even on their own terms.

Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don’t always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.

The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them — when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.

It may be true that THE DARK KNIGHT set records in part because of Heath Ledger’s untimely demise, but I think it was destined to do well regardless. And if it reminds us that there are men and women who “stand in the gap” for us every day, protecting our freedom and our way of life, so much the better.

May we have the collective wisdom to elect leaders who are not afraid to answer the call in defense of liberty.

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Proud Papa

Father’s Day weekend, so I’ll get right to the point: I’m really proud of my young-uns.

Today we picked up our daughter after four weeks as a production assistant on an independent film. That’s four weeks in the farm country of northeast North Carolina, in the middle of which she went to the emergency room for heat exhaustion. And they liked her work so much they changed her unpaid internship to a paid position.

And as I type this, our son is performing at his first paying musical gig: he’s playing violin at a wedding with some other members of the high school chamber group. He’s done some charity gigs before with the band he formed at church (Clantannin), but this is his first time driving to an out-of-town gig and coming home with money.

My kids are cool. Pity I can’t take the credit for their coolness.

But I’m proud of ’em.

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Filmmakers in the Triangle; and, After the Peak

My writing friend Alex Wilson first alerted me to the Triangle Filmmakers’ Special Interest Group (TFSIG*), but unfortunately he and I have never been at a meeting together. He’s been very busy recovering from a serious head injury sustained in an auto accident, so he’s got a good excuse. (He’s a great guy, so go ahead and check out his web site.)

You came back? Thanks.

Tonight’s TFSIG meeting was a smallish affair. I listen a lot at these meetings, and have learned more than I ever thought I would about the ups and downs of independent filmmaking. One day if I write a story that’s film-able, I hope to at least be conversant about the process … even though I won’t have any control over it, I want to understand it. (Of course, if I quit going to meetings and sat down to write, I’d be a lot closer to fulfilling that “if” clause. 🙁 )

Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to introduce After the Peak, a docudrama made by Jim McQuaid. Jim is the driving force behind the TFSIG, and even though only a few people will see this I’m happy to plug his film. It’s certainly a timely subject:

The end of cheap oil is coming. Gasoline prices over $3.00 a gallon isn’t the end of cheap oil. The end of cheap oil will look a lot worse than that. Unfortunately.

We might argue the details about when we will hit the downslope of the oil availability curve, but I’m not sure anyone can deny that we will hit it. And we need to have alternatives ready to deal with the inevitability. Orson Scott Card argued awhile back on The Ornery American (sorry, I can’t find the precise link right now) that we’d be well served to slow our use of oil for transportation and power because we’re going to need the remaining oil for a long time to keep making plastic.

I haven’t seen Jim’s film yet, but I plan to order a copy.

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* Yes, I wish we had a better name.

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Sputnik Documentary

This TED segment was posted in the last few days (it was originally presented last year), in which documentarian David Hoffman presents clips from his movie Sputnik Mania. His hindsight isn’t quite 20/20, I don’t think — he seems to ascribe nefarious motives only to the U.S. — but some of the historical footage is quite good.

Note the comment on the page, pointing out a technical error in the animation. Mr. Cordes, the commenter, is quite right: the animation shows the satellite traversing from northeast to southwest, but in a prograde orbit its ground trace would traverse either southwest to northeast (ascending) or northwest to southeast (descending).

I wish I could say I’d caught that, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Which is why I wouldn’t make a good movie critic.

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