Monday, June 29, 2015

I Hate Scott Christian Sava: An Appreciation

     I don’t know about you, but it seems to me as though God has singled out certain people for some kind of cosmic Hall Pass that excuses them from the trials, tribulations, and banana-peels that ordinary mortals such as you and I slip on every day. Scott Sava is one such person.
     When I first met him, a few days after moving into a house down the street from his, Scottie was hip deep in computer animation, doing cinematics and promos for videogames like “Aliens Vs. Predators” and pilots for networks like Nickelodeon. But there were no phalanxes of workstations in his studio, no mainframes, no sleep-deprived, Red Bull-guzzling programmers -- nothing but Scottie, his PC, and a few dozen action figures strategically positioned around the room. The guy was running an entire animation studio out of his basement, commanding a small army of animators from Mumbai to Dusselldorf with nothing more than Yahoo Messenger, surrounded by his toys, never more than a few feet away from his gorgeous wife and insanely adorable twins. How lucky can you get?
      I hated him at once.
      Mind you, it wasn’t easy. Scottie is one of the most likable people I’ve ever met. I don’t think he actually knows how to frown. When things get really bad he may stop smiling for a few seconds, but that’s about it. Otherwise he’s in a perpetually sunny mood . You would be too, if God was personally looking after you.
      Seriously -- nothing short of divine intervention can explain how Scott could suddenly pull up roots, move to Tennessee, and devote himself full-time to his lifelong dream of creating his own comic-books and children’s stories and actually make it work, emerging only to sell the rights to one of his creations to Disney or some other Hollywood studio.
      And what else can explain a guy who, in our weekly poker games, would make bets just for the fun of it, without even looking at his cards – and walk home with all of our quarters stuffed into his Speed Racer lunchbox?
      Or take the time he went to a comic book convention in Las Vegas. There’s Scottie, selling his little comics at his little dealer’s table, and suddenly he decides he’s bored. The convention is in a hotel, and this being Vegas, the hotel has a casino. So he makes a beeline for a video poker machine.
      Now, video poker is not like regular poker; the odds are much tougher and are thoroughly rigged in the house’s favor. But this is Scott Sava we’re talking about, so the house doesn’t have a chance. Just as he slides his money into the slot, God takes a moment off from running the entire infinity of the universe to point His finger in Scottie’s direction and arrange for $4,000 to come pouring out of the machine.
      So now that Scottie’s got a cool four grand in his pocket, he decides to take in the rest of the dealer’s room as he wanders back to his booth. And along the way he notices a Spider-Man #3 -- the issue that introduced Doctor Octopus to the world -- at a dealer’s table and, being Scottie, he just has to have it. Thus endeth the $4,000. (Most of it, anyway. I think he blew the rest of it on a lavish dinner with his family.)
     When Scottie told me about this, my immediate unspoken reaction was, “He blew all that money on a stupid comic book? What an idiot!” But then I visited Scottie in his basement, and there was the comic – still in its mylar bag, which he’d taped to the wall. And to my surprise my eyes went saucer-wide and I began shaking as if I were in the presence of a holy relic. Holy crap, my inner fanboy murmured, awe-stricken. An actual Spiderman #3!! And I realized Scottie had done the right thing.
     After all, God’s looking after him. I’m certain that some day some collector will offer Scottie five times what he paid for that comic book. And I’m just as certain Scottie will turn him down.
     Because that’s Scottie – living by his own rules, doing exactly what he wants, giving his dreams shape and form without any compromise, with a gorgeous wife, two insanely adorable kids, a fistful of movie deals and a Spider-Man #3. He’s God’s fool, with the Devil’s own luck.
      Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Scottie is incredibly talented, utterly devoted to his art, stubborn as a mule, and congenitally incapable of creating anything less than his absolute personal vision.
     But I still say it’s mainly luck. And, man, do I hate him for it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Forget the Shooty Dog Thing.

This historic document came into my possession many years ago.  Note item four!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Going to Gallifrey (literally).

I can finally announce that I will be writing the fourth and final episode of Big Finish Productions' latest Gallifrey series of audio dramas.  "Gallifrey" is a "Doctor Who" spin-off, and it's basically "The West Wing" with Timelords.  The series features three of my favorite classic companions: Romana (Lala Ward), the only Timelord ever to travel with the Doctor, and Leela (Louise Jameson), amazonian warrior of the Sevateem Tribe, as well as the one and only K-9, voiced by the one and only John Leeson.  Writing dialogue for characters I've loved for almost 30 years is a huge thrill for me, and I only hope I don't screw it up too badly!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gallifrey One

This weekend Audry and I will be all over GALLIFREY ONE, the legendary Doctor Who convention, at the L.A. Airport Marriott.  If you're attending, please look us up!  See the comments for our schedule.

Saturday, 1 PM, Programming Room 3: It's The End, But the Moment Has Been Prepared For: Fan Reactions to Character Deaths.
Saturday, 2 PM: Programming Room 3: Star Trek in the post-Abrams World.
Saturday, 3 PM: Programming Room 2: Remaking Books & Comics into Television and Film  (w/ Paul Cornell & Marv Wolfman.)
Sunday, 12 PM, Programming Room 2: Expanding Your Horizons: SF Literature from the Pros (w/Paul Cornell, David Gerrold)

Saturday, 4 PM, Programming Room 2: Young Adult Fiction -- Not Just Your Daughter's Novel  (Audry is moderating, with best-selling author Nancy Holder and writer Eve Eschenbacher.)
Sunday, 4:30 PM, Programming Room 2: Vampires and Werewolves and Ghouls - Oh My! (with Tony Lee and others)

We hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The greatest keyboard in the world.

I started writing professionally in 1972, which meant I wrote on a typewriter.  My weapon of choice was the IBM Selectric -- simply the greatest typewriter ever made, with a beautiful, ergonomic keyboard that rewarded you with silky-smooth action and supple tactile feedback every time you pressed a key.

Eventually I switched to a dedicated word processer made by IBM, so of course the keyboard was Selectric-style -- and finally, an actual computer.  From 1987 to 1992 I wrote on a Toshiba T3100 portable.  It was a remarkable unit for its time -- the smallest computer made, with a gas plasma screen and an onboard hard drive; it was about 15" by 15" and a little over twice as thick as today's laptops. Most importantly, it had a sturdy, mechanical, Selectric-style keyboard.  

By 1992, under punishing, near-constant use, the Toshiba was beginning to wear out.  (Plus there was this new thing called "Windows 3.1" that everyone wanted me to try.)  And so, after much pestering, I let Bryce Malek drag me to a computer fair in Pomona to buy my first "desktop."  It was a shake-and-bake affair -- the motherboard, disc drives, and screen were all from different, mainly no-name, manufacturers.  But while the rest of the computer was off-brand, I chose an IBM Model M keyboard because, once again, it was the most like the Selectric's stadium-rake design.  For the next seven years, that keyboard would be my constant companion; I used the hell out of it, writing entire seasons of TMNT, Speed Racer, and Mighty Ducks,  as well as a couple of TV movies and numerous pilots.  I spent so much time at that keyboard that by the time I was done with it, the texturing on the front of the case where my wrists rested had been worn smooth to a high gloss.

The Model M served me well, but there was one thing I was not crazy about: it was noisy.  Because the keys used a buckling-spring system, they made a very loud click followed by a slight ringing sound every time you pressed them.

I became especially aware of this when Audry and I moved in together, and I heard how much quieter her newer soft-touch keyboard was. And so when it came time to buy a new computer in 1999, I gladly donated my Model M to a local school, replacing it with a nice, quiet Dell keyboard.  Like the rest of the world, I have used similar keyboards ever since.  And so a long silence settled over my typing...

In time I started a publishing company; as a result, I spent less and less time at the keyboard.  Then late last year I started work on a novel and returned to writing daily -- and to my horror, I found that I didn't type as well as I used to. I made more typos, I mis-struck keys all the time, and in general I found the task of typing to be vaguely unpleasant and something of a chore.  I assumed that because I had been away from my profession for a few years my skills had atrophied.

I was wrong.  It was the keyboard.  And not just the keyboard in my office.  It was every keyboard we had in the house.  It was every keyboard in the world.

Because a funny thing happened in the ten years since I let my Model M slip away: as the mouse gained in acceptance and importance to the average user, and the keyboard became more and more of an afterthought for manufacturers.  And as computer prices have been driven down, keyboards are now built as cheaply as possible, without the needs of a typist in mind. The biggest difference is that now almost all keyboards  use a rubber-dome switch system  like this:

The rubber domes sit beneath the keys; when a key is depressed, its dome collapses, tripping a switch beneath it; when the key is released the dome bounces back to its original shape..  Such keyboards are cheap, reliable, and seemingly easier to use, because the keys have a very short travel, moving only a few millimeters when you press on them.

By contrast. the IBM Model M used a buckling spring key mechanism, which is expensive and complex.  Buckling spring keys have a longer travel, but require a lighter touch.  As you press the key down, the little spring inside bends until it buckles, resulting in that famous loud click and tripping the hammer on a membrane-switch beneath it.

This design provides a true typing experience; by contrast, using a rubber dome keyboard is like typing on the buttons of a TV remote. And you're probably using one right now.

But I didn't know all this yet. All I knew was that I was having problems typing and I wasn't as productive as I used to be because part of me dreaded spending time at the keyboard.  Seeking a solution, I want back to my old touchstone, and did a Google search on phrase: "IBM Selectric style keyboard."

What I got was 20,000 hits about the Model M. 

And I discovered that in the decade since I got rid of mine, the Model M had become a legend.  It has tens of thousands of fans who cherish its solid feel and clicky keys, and more are converting every day.  And the keyboard itself never actually went away: In 1996 IBM sold the rights and machinery for manufacturing the Model M to a company called Unicomp, and it has remained in production to this day. 

I found a site called Clicky Keyboards that has hundreds of old Models M's for sale, and found a pristine new old-stock M from 1993 for 69 bucks. It arrived a few days ago, a thing of beauty, still in its original styrofoam packing:


As soon as I plugged it in and laid my hands on it, I felt like I'd been reunited with an old friend.  My fingers flew lightly over the keys unleashing a flurry of loud, ringing clicks.  Soon I realized I was typing faster, typing more accurately, and most of all actually enjoying typing for the first time in years.  .This was my instrument.  I felt like Sweeney Todd singing "At last, my arm is complete again!"

So what is it about the Model M that inspires such devotion?  It can't be just be its retro appeal.  First and foremost, it's the typing experience.  It is the only keyboard I know of designed for people who type for a living.  With a Model M, you know when you've completed a keystroke, unlike rubber-dome-switch keyboards .  And its design is descended from the mighty IBM Selectric: the shape and layout of the keys is truly ergonmic, resulting in greater speed and accuracy.  It's simply less work to work on an M.  (One user claims his typing speed went from 50 words per minute to 65 when he switched from a rubber-dome keyboard to a Model M.)

And it is built like a proverbial tank.  Tens of thousands 25-year-old Model M's are still in service today.  Letters and symbols are embedded in the keys, not printed on them like decals, so they can never wear off.  It weighs five pounds -- more than many contemporary laptops -- thanks to an internal steel plate that supports the entire mechanism.  If, while working, you are attacked by an assailant with a small-calliber handgun -- anything under a .38 -- you can use your five-pound steel-plated Model M to deflect the incoming bullets, then beat your attacker senseless with it.  How many computer peripherals can make that claim?

So if you write for a living, or program code, or spend a lot of time typing for whatever reason, consider adding the Model M to your arsenal.  You'll discover the long-forgotten pleasure of typing on a really good keyboard.  You'll probably find your work is easier and goes faster.  It's compatible both with PCs and Macs.  And your Model M will still be with you long after the computer you're working on now becomes landfill. 

There are three ways to get a Model M: The first and cheapest is Ebay, where dozens of Model M's are auctioned off every day.  Expect to pay from $30 for a well-used but still functioning one, to $70 for old-store stock, unused in its original packaging.  But be sure to read the fine print; sometimes on Ebay the phrase "works perfectly" really means "works perfectly except for the 'B' key that always sticks."

If you don't want to deal with Ebay, I highly recommend  They have a wide range of used Model M's, all cleaned-up, tested and guaranteed.  They also do repairs, and have excellent customer service.

In either case, you'll probably need an adapter, as vintage Model M's use a PS2 plus like this...

...while most present-day computers use a USB plug.  Fortunately, ClickyKeyboards sells a good PS2-to-USB adapter for about $15.  (Do NOT get a simple, passive plug; the adapter for the M requires active circuitry and onboard drivers.)

Or. if you'd like to skip all the hassle and get a new Model M, go the website of Unicomp,  the company that took over manufacture of the M from IBM's Lexmark division 13 years ago.  They make a wide variety of keyboards; the "Customizer" is their version of the Model M, and you can get it with a USB connector, making it a true plug-and-play unit, for $69.  I recommend their black Model 104 for Mac users, as it has the extra buttons which can be used as the "Option" keys on a Mac keyboard.  According to reports, their customer service is unbelievably great.

I didn't realize how much I'd missed my bulky, heavy, noisy Model M until I had it back and under my fingertips again. The clicking racket that had caused me to abandon it ten years earlier was now music to my ears.  As Hendrix had his Stratocaster, as Paganini had his Guarnerius, as Jimmy Page had his two-necked Gibson, so I have my Model M.  It's my axe!  Bring on the noise! 

Postscript: Here's a paean to the Model M, written by a Mac user: IBM Model M -- The Best Computer Keyboard Ever.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I don't remember how I first met Samuel R. Delany, the science fiction writer known as Chip to his friends.  I think my parents had something to do with it.  I know I proselytized endlessly to them about Chip and other writers of SF's New Wave, which was then at its cusp.  And my parents knew another SF writer, Tom Disch (though again, I have no idea how), so I suspect it was through Tom's auspices that Chip came over for dinner one evening.  From that evening forward for the next three years until I moved to Los Angeles, I did everything I could to be at Chip's side, or in his ear via the phone, as much of the time as possible.  I was 14 years old and as thick as a plank, and it is a testimony to Chip's overflowing generosity of spirit that he tolerated me, because good lord I must have been an annoying little twerp.

For the past few months I've been reading Chip's collection of essays, interviews and letters, On Writing -- slowly, slowly, to prolong the experience as much as possible  -- as of course it's had me thinking about those three years, during which Chip and I...

Shot a movie.

Saw a revival of Busby Berkeley's "The Gang's All Here."

Attended a couple of Clarion Workshops.

Saw Terry Riley perform "A Rainbow in Curved Air" live.

Saw Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" one-and-a-half times.  (We came in late and saw the last 40 minutes -- the nerve-wracking siege of the farmhouse; as the lights came up we were both clutching the arms of our seats, and Chip said, "Gee, I hope the first part of the movie is as good!")

Spent a lot of time talking.

(I also think I dragged him to see the musical "Follies," then in its original Broadway run, but that could be a trick of memory -- I know I wanted him to see it.) 

From 1969 to 1972 I felt as though any day that did not have some form of interaction with Chip was a day wasted.  When asked if I had a mentor, I always point to Chip. He is a great teacher and I learned more about writing from him than any other human being; but I think it was really his friendship and his far-ranging interests, that affected me so deeply at a time in my life when I was absorbing influences like a sponge.  Whatever lack of shallowness I can lay claim to, I owe to Chip.  Reading "On Writing" 37 years after those experiences, it amazes me how much there still is to learn from him.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hi Tech, Old School

This is for Bryce Malek and anyone else who was a computer gearhead way back when.  A piece from a Bay Area public television station about the revolutionary new IBM PS/2 personal computer, from 1987.  Is it the biggest innovation in computing since the original PS, six years earlier?  Will users go for the hi-res 1024×768 screen resolution?  Will OS2 at last bring true multitasking to home computer.  Will OS2 ever even be released?  Will the guy from United Airlines ever eat his words when he says (more or less) "Book tickets through a home computer?  No fucking way!"  Press "Play" and find out!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Transformer talk.

If you'd like to hear me being grilled for an hour by a pair of fans from the UK about Transformers, TMNT, Star Trek, and other exciting chitchat and behind-the-scenes stuff, click here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Moon

If you've ever wondered what an auditorium full of girls sounds like when a newly-buff werewolf peels his shirt off, this is your lucky day:

As you might guess, Audry and I went to see Twilight: New Moon last night. It was the 7:00 showing, so the theater was filled to bursting with girls aged 9 to 19, and they put on quite a show. As for the movie itself (what I could hear of it, anyway), it's not bad considering it's laboring under the book's numerous plot problems. Chris Weitz is a more polished director than Catherine Hardwicke, but the rough edges were part of what made the first film so exceptional. New Moon is slicker than Twilight, with considerably more action sequences and special effects, so replacing Hardwicke was probably a good financial decision, if a poor artistic one. The cast is uniformly good, with Michael Sheen delivering the campiest performance of his career, and Dakota Fanning briefly showing that she may yet make quite a good grownup actress some day. Taylor Lautner is the standout as wolf-boy Jacob. He's likable, believable, and MAN are his teeth white. The computer-generated wolves are not good, and I'm beginning to think that CG has reached the threshold of what it can accomplish with furry things. As with the first film, New Moon has has a couple of unintentional laughs, particularly Alice's vision of Bella in the future, which was met with hoots of derision from the ladies in the house. But they went absolutely berserk at the film's last line of dialogue, so bring on Eclipse!

Monday, November 16, 2009


There is a palpable nostalgia these days, shared by me, for those long-lost Lp covers of yore.  The art of the album cover flourished from the advent of the Lp in the mid-50's and died in the mid-80's, when the rise of the 5" by 5" CD reduced the canvas on which graphic designers plied their craft to a sub-postcard size.  Ever since I spent a sunny afternoon in May 1967 poring over the eye-popping cover for Sgt. Pepper, I have loved looking at album art.

Lately, I've found myself obsessing over old jazz albums.  The best of them capture a long lost era of Cool, and and crackle with the energy and optimism of the era.  The Blue Note covers of the the Fifties and Sixties, for instance, are legendary for their black and white photos and bold, often monochrome graphics.  Here are few examples:

Now, as for the bizarre title of this post. While recently adding some early 50's jazz discs to my collection, I came across three truly weird covers, all for famous jazzmen, all drawn by the same artist, extremely well known for his subsequent work but quite obscure at the time he did these. Let's see if you can guess who he is:

If you guessed Don Martin, your fabulous fortune is prizes is in the mail. That's right, Mad's maddest artist did the cover for a Miles Davis Lp back in 1955. Glorpf!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Best Line from This Week's "30 Rock"

The  cover copy of the Chinese edition of Liz Lemon's Dealbreakers book:  "The book for you, man no good, by Lesbian Flower Sour Fruit."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I do.

It was the spring of 2001, and Audry and I were looking at wedding dresses at various boutiques on Ventura Boulevard. There was one in particular that Liz Sage (who had diabolically tricked me into becoming engaged and who would end up marrying us) had recommended. When I saw it in the window, my reaction was the same as Audry's had been: Ugh. On the blank mannequin, it looked Victorian and matronly. Worse yet, it had green and pink beadwork running up and down its front. Green? On a wedding dress? Who thought that was a good idea?

I was ready to move on to the next shop, but Audry insisted she had promised Liz she'd try it on. We went in, and while she went into the fitting room I sat down and waited with grim expectations.

A few minutes later Audry stepped out from behind the curtain, and I nearly fell out of my chair.

This dress, which had been a drab sack with green beads, transformed into a thing of utter beauty when Audry wore it. She brought it alive. She was the most glorious thing I had ever seen.

Months later, in Orlando, on our wedding day, she was as radiant as a princess.  (Click for larger view.)

I bring this up because eight years ago today, Audry and I were married, at Disney World.  It was the happiest day of my life. Here's the highlight of the ceremony:

Notice how Liz doubles over in surprise, but immediately snaps back by saying "That's legal!" Thank god we were married by a comedy writer.