In Transit


This is a documentary by Albert Maysles (and others), covering people traveling on the Amtrak train Empire Builder (which travels from Chicago to Seattle or Portland, OR). It’s really good. Like, emotionally stirring, inspiring-as-a-piece-of-art-and-otherwise good.

Some of my appreciation for it comes from being a writer and knowing the struggle to create believably human people in media with limited resources. In Transit feels like an effortless skim across the surface of many people’s lives, but each one feels real, deep, often emotionally compelling, and always very human. Which in turn means that the editing was spectacular, because they turned disparate piecemeal vignettes into something that feels whole, and they did such a good job that it feels *natural.*

It’s a textbook example of character construction done right. But the team that made this did so many other story construction things right too, and the emotional impact was incredible and… In Transit is overwhelming, but in a good way.

When I say that the film is overwhelming, I mean that there are so many brief moments of intensely believable humanity that feel honest and wonderful and often bittersweet… so many of these moments that it’s difficult to know what to think as you leave the theater. I felt almost stunned as I walked home, and I still feel awe when I think about the movie.

In the skillful ways in which it reveals humanity with such economy of time and focus, In Transit feels like what a storyteller ought to aspire to. I would strongly recommend watching it, especially if you are in the practice of creating characters that you want to feel like real people.

If you are not in the practice of creating characters, I would strongly recommend that you watch it anyway. This movie is marvelous and moving in many unexpected ways.

The film’s site can be found here:

Sadly, it seems that Albert Maysles died before this was released. More details on that (and the uncertain future of the film due to rights disputes) here.

My Apologies to Iron Man: Why Power Armor Doesn’t Make Sense


The contents of Iron Man’s suit after the third explosion.

My argument is somewhat more elaborate than this, but the gist of it is thus:

  1. Place monkey in tin can.
  2. Shake can vigorously.
  3. Remove pulped monkey from can with preferred utensil.


What’s the deal with power armor?

I love science fiction, and I often enjoy seeing science fiction become science fact (even if it is scary at times).  Plenty of things that we’ve dreamed up in our stories eventually come to pass in real life, whether it is because they inspired others to make them or because they were the product of careful forethought on the part of an author.  But what about power armor?  It’s been a staple of military-oriented science fiction for decades.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that power armor is an armored exoskeleton which offers its onboard human operator enhanced strength, mobility, and protection (sounds pretty cool, right?).  Yet while I’m usually pretty excited about science fiction becoming reality, I’m not so sure about seeing power armor become real.  Let me explain.

The Army’s TALOS project is now pushing for an armored exoskeleton, something which is essentially power armor.

R&D has a reputation for being a little bonkers sometimes; people fixate on really cool ideas and try to make them work, regardless of whether or not the ideas are practical or have any clear application.  That’s perfectly alright, in my opinion, as we never know where such things might take us.  Military R&D often turns that fixation up to eleven, which becomes a bit more problematic.  Sometimes the things we develop are impractical or nonsensical to implement (like 747s mounting lasers to provide missile interception), sometimes the tactical or strategic role intended for a weapon disappears before it is completed (as with Japan’s WWII submarine aircraft carriers), and sometimes the intended capabilities don’t make very much sense in the first place.  In the case of power armor, it all has to do with these things called “bodies.”

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