Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism by Christine Desan

Amazing. Desan pulls back the myths about money’s origins, demonstrating in the process how boom and bust cycles are built into our financial system.

Feels weird to call a financial history a page-turner, but this one was compelling reading.

Three of the many things I learned:

  • In medieval England, you had to pay (!) for money. Merchants would bring silver bullion to the mint, and the government would convert it to coins, keeping some of the coins generated for themselves as a fee.
  • Bank of England notes were used as currency for over a hundred years before they were legal tender (first issued late 17th century, made legal currency only in 1833).
  • Metal coins are often used for money, not because of the metal’s intrinsic value, but because of how well it fulfills money’s needs: the tokens used for money need to be non-perishable, portable, and hard to fake.

No Time Off

Novel’s at 88,796 words.

I’m pushing myself to write at least 400 words a day, stretching to 500, instead of my usual 250. I’m writing every day now, instead of taking weekends off. I’ve even shifted my work schedule — heck, shifted the dog’s feed schedule — so I can put in more writing time in the morning.

All so I can hit my deadline.

Don’t know if I’ll hit it. It’s looking like the book will blow past the 90K word target I’d set for myself, back in the heady days when I thought 50,000 words was more than halfway through.

But how far past 90,000 words? 2,000? 5,000? 20,000? No idea. (Note to self: please try to get it done before 120,000 words).

So: 12 days left. All I can do is keep pushing, and see where it ends up.

How to Fix Deadpool

This movie was surprisingly good. I’ll admit I know nothing about the comic book character aside from his appearances in Squirrel Girl. But it felt like Ryan Reynolds has been working his whole life to be able to play this role, and it fits him like a leather gimp superhero suit.

There’s actually nothing to fix here. Honest. It’s funny, irreverent, and personal, exactly what it needed to be.

Nothing to fix.









What Went Wrong

Ok, you got me. There’s one thing that bothered me: it got a little cliché at the end.

Vanessa getting kidnapped because the bad guys can’t find Deadpool, I understand. Vanessa getting tied up, I understand. But Vanessa helpless until Deadpool can rescue her? Felt too typical, too normal, for any movie, let alone one that was going out of its way to be different.

How to Fix It

Rather than push Vanessa’s character into damsel-in-distress mode, I’d prefer her to escape on her own. Preferably, via her mutant powers.

There’s a perfect moment, after we first see her tied up, and then Deadpool shows up. The villains’ backs are turned while they banter with Deadpool. That’d be a great moment for Vanessa to suddenly color-shift, and then become invisible.

When the villains turn back to sneer at her, she’s gone. They pop open the container, wondering how she escaped, but then get distracted again by Deadpool.

She uses the fight to wriggle her way free of the constraints, then hides, coming out to deliver her sword blow to the villain just when needed.

It’s a small change, but giving her a mutant power — one that she’s presumably kept from Deadpool — gives her character a little more depth, a little more mystery, and letting her use it to free herself is both more in line with her character (strong and independent) and subverts the clichéd ending.

How to Fix Captain America: Winter Soldier

I loved this movie when it came out. It was interesting, well-paced, and felt like it did justice to all of its characters, no matter how minor. Not to mention the events of this movie aren’t just taken seriously, they pushed the ongoing MCU TV series and movies in a different direction.

But re-watching the movie revealed a few flaws.

What Went Wrong

In a word: cinematography.

The camera is moving throughout the movie, jostling and shaking back and forth constantly. Its particularly egregious in most of the fight scenes, where the trembling camera combines with super-quick cuts and bad framing to render them illegible.

The scene where Black Widow and Captain America are sitting talking inside Falcon’s house? The camera constantly dips down and tilts, so that different parts of Black Widow’s head are in frame every couple of seconds. What did the shaky-cam bring to this scene?

It seems the camera only stands still for the CGI shots, like when the heli-carriers are taking off near the end of the film.

How to Fix It

Simple: stop shaking the camera. We’ve had the technology for shooting movies in a stable fashion — even action scenes, mind you — for a few decades. Use that.

We’ve also got to reframe most of the shots of the movie. The sequence where the Winter Soldier, Cap, and Black Widow are all fighting around an overpass is in particular need of a re-shoot. Most of the shots are at odd angles, with any background that could help orient the action completely out of frame.

This is a great movie. It deserved to be shot clearly, without the headache-inducing edits that chopped movies like Quantum of Solace into a boring mess.

Closing In

Managed to quiet my inner editor long enough to push the novel to 86,126 words this week.

The puzzle pieces are starting to come together for my protagonist, which is making things a little easier. Each part of the solution they come across leads them on to additional questions, which reveals more of the solution.

All I have to do — I tell myself — is write down what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, and let the events I set in motion earlier play out.

It’s not that easy — it’s never that easy — but the lie helps, somehow.

I also keep reminding myself that: a) if it turns out that what I’m writing is crap, I can fix it in the next draft, and b) the only way to get better for the next novel is to finish this one.

How to Fix Thor

I’ll admit it. My wife and I are re-watching all the Marvel movies in preparation for Civil War.

Like Iron Man 2, Thor is mostly good. On this re-watch, Loki came across as more of a tragic figure to me, a son trying to prove his worth to his father, but choosing the wrong way to do it. Thor grappling with his newfound weakness on Earth is still my favorite section of the movie (I’m a horrible person, and laugh every time Jane hits him with her car).

But there’s one glaring weakness in the film: Thor’s Asgardian friends

What Went Wrong

I don’t list them by name, because, well…can you remember their names? Or really, anything about them?

Sure, one is female and one is big and hairy and one is Asian and one is dapper. But that doesn’t tell us anything about them as people, as characters and personalities.

We never get a sense of them as individuals, and we don’t get a sense of them as a team. As a result, every scene with them in it lacks emotional weight. We simply don’t know who these people are, or why they’re friends, and we don’t care.

This is important because several key points of the movie involve them: the expedition to Jugenheim, their betrayal of King Loki, the fight against the Defender in the Earth town. Leaving these characters as bare sketches, as stereotypes, lowers the stakes in all of these scenes, weakening the movie as whole.

How to Fix It

Intro Thor and his team by showing them on a mission. Something small, but enough to see them in action and solidify their camaraderie.

We should see each of them exhibit their abilities. Using the Big One’s gregarious personality and Loki’s lies, the two of them talk the group past some guards. The Asian One and the Dapper One do some scouting, which requires them to scale some stone walls and do a little acrobatics. The Female One sticks by Thor’s side, stopping him just as he’s about to step on a trap. Thor can lost his temper halfway through the mission, putting them all in danger and causing his team to bail him out of trouble.

It doesn’t need to be long, just enough to give us a sense that these people have been working together for a long time, they trust each other (mostly), and they’ve all good unique histories. Maybe each one is from a different world, and so they can all give us some sense of how the Nine Realms work together?

To make room for it, we drop the intro sequence about the war with the Frost Giants. It’s confusing, it’s backstory, and we don’t need it. We do need to see Thor’s team in action.

The mission sequence also gives us a chance to show Thor’s second of three strikes. Odin welcomes them home after the successful completion of their mission (it’s the reason for the celebration in the beginning) but chastises them for taking a risk, etc. He can mention a previous (recent) strike, one that Thor thinks of as an adventure, but Odin sees as a mark of his immaturity.

We still have the Frost Giants sneak attack in the middle of this, and the Defender does its job. But now Thor and Loki get to ask what they were after, and Odin gives them the history, but abbreviated, and without the Earth piece.

With that change, the stakes are higher throughout the movie. When Thor goes to Jotunheim, we understand that he’s disobeying his father again, and dragging his team — who we know and care about — along with him. When Thor starts fighting, we understand that not only has Thor put peace between the worlds at risk, he’s put his team in danger, since we just saw Odin warn them against crossing him a third time.

We totally understand when Odin appears and takes them home, then yells at Thor and takes his hammer. It’s the culmination of a chain of events, not a father suddenly turning abusive because his kid stayed out past curfew.

And when Thor’s friends face off against the Defender, we care a lot more. They’ve broken the terms of their freedom in Asgard to find their friend, only to discover he’s no longer the strong fighter he was. The fight against the Defender will likely be their last, but they’ll fight it together.

How to Fix Iron Man 2

Re-watched this one over the weekend, and it holds up better than I remember. Rourke’s villain is still over-the-top, and Rockwell’s industrialist is so sleazy and incompetent it’s hard to believe he’s in charge of anything, let alone a large company.

But overall this is a fun movie, despite dealing with heavier subjects, like Stark’s relationships with Pepper, Rhodey, and his mortality.

A few things could have been done to make this movie even better, though.

What Went Wrong

Because of the noise generated by the villains, the emotional beats can get lost.

At the end of the movie, we think that Pepper Potts is giving on being CEO, and Tony’s going to take over. This undermines the sense of Pepper as being the more competent of the two, and is misleading: Tony doesn’t return as CEO.

We also think his best friend stole one of the Iron Man suits just to punish Tony for getting drunk at his birthday party, which makes him seem petty and mean.

How to Fix It

During the fight between Rhodey and Tony at the birthday party, we need to hear Rhodey lecture Tony about his other lapses. We need a sense that this is the last straw for Rhodey, that Tony — because he’s dying — has been neglecting his duties as Iron Man. Getting drunk while in the suit at his party is just his latest shirking of responsibility to Rhodey, and it’s gotten bad enough that he finally just takes one of the suits, instead of waiting for Tony to step up.

For the Potts plotline, all we need is for Tony to talk about how good she is at the job. He can drop a compliment into his failed apology when he brings her the strawberries. The comment bounces off her anger, of course, and rightly so, but it’ll reinforce the idea that she’s the right CEO.

Then, on the roof scene, instead of offering to resign, Pepper should ask how *he* dealt with all the stress. She can talk about how it’s worse for her, since she has to worry about him, too, but she doesn’t even come close to quitting. Instead, this is a moment for Tony to support her emotionally, telling her she’s doing great, she’s better at it than he was, and she’ll make it through.

Small changes, but they’ll underline the emotional parts of the story, and strengthen what is already a good movie.

Not Blocked, Afraid

Novel’s at 83,370 words.

So I turned out to be wrong about sustaining the faster pace. Only managed 700 words this week.

I could say it’s because I’m doing more planning and outlining, and less writing. I could say it’s because I’ve started jogging in the mornings again, so I have less time to write.

But in truth I’m distracted, conflicted, and afraid.

I’m afraid I won’t have the book done by the end of the month. I’m afraid I won’t be able to edit it into something worth reading later this year. I’m afraid I’m wasting my time, that I should be spending more of what free time I have working on side programming projects, investing in my skills there instead of here.

In short, I’m afraid I’m making a mistake.

And of course, the lack of writing progress only makes the fear worse. It’s evidence, you see, that I’m not up to snuff, that I need to just move on to something that will pay more, something that’s more in line with my day job, anything other than this.

Right now, I’m just hoping the fear will pass. Till then, all I can do is force myself to sit down, stare at the screen, and push the words out. Even if they’re terrible.

We’ll see who quits first.

Darkest Dungeon, from Red Hook Studios

Addictive. Which surprises me, since I spend most of my time failing at individual missions, struggling desperately to keep my adventurers from succumbing to madness. And yet I keep coming back for more.

Three things I learned about game design:

  • Art and sound design go a long way to selling the game. The mechanics of the thing can be familiar, while the art and the sound (that narrator!) really immerse the player in the world.
  • Failure can be fun, so long as the player can anticipate it, and recover from it. With those two pieces, failing becomes a continuation of the play experience, not a detriment.
  • Don’t be dismissive of old game forms. Even the venerable dungeon crawl has some life left in it, yet.