Mrs. Hansen

Since Darla Hansen has lately been a topic of discussion in Anchorage, what with the movie crew and everything, I thought I’d add my first-hand impressions.

I met Darla Hansen twice and talked to her by phone a third time. The first meeting was at her home on Old Harbor Road, the year after Bob confessed. It seemed like she was still in shock, but she was a considerate, almost fussy, hostess. She dutifully showed me the house, which was for sale at the time. We only talked briefly about Bob; she told me she’d taken care of all the legal issues, so his life would no longer rule hers. She added that most of her neighbors wanted her to stay; she wasn’t so sure. In all of this, she was determined and matter-of-fact, like many midwestern women I’ve met over the years.

The second time we met was at a Bible study group with some of her church friends. I recall that the topic of discussion was “talking to God.” Everyone said that, yes, they did talk to God. Only Darla said that God talked back. One of the men in the study group subtly rolled his eyes, but none of us commented further. If anyone needed divine guidance, surely Darla qualified.

By the time I spoke to Darla the third time, she had moved back to Arkansas. She didn’t much want to talk about Bob. She wanted to leave him in another place; she wanted to leave him in the past. But she did confirm this much: she suspected he’d been up to something, but had no idea how deep that something went. As a recent book by an FBI profiler notes, this is often the case with dangerous criminals; their success depends on disappearing into the shadows of “good appearances.” When he needed to, Bob Hansen was very adept at doing “nice,” “hardworking,” “family man” and “upstanding citizen.” He fooled a lot of people for a long time.

That said, in all our conversations I was struck by Darla’s sensitivity and intelligence, though I couldn’t help but think her willfully naive. Like all of us, she is a flawed being. Unlike most of us, she happened to marry a monster, who used her good-heartedness against her.

’70s Sleaze

Frozen Ground filmmakers in Anchorage are temporarily transforming parts of the city to resemble its seedy ’70s -’80s past. There’s a decent slide show, too.

Seeing the photos reminds me of my visits to Anchorage in the early ’80s, when my co-author Walter Gilmour gave me the grand tour. At the time, I recall being somewhat amazed at the much more laissez faire attitude toward prostitution in Alaska.

Then there was Walter’s matter-of-fact revelations on how the trade worked. The ladies of the night, he told me, were generally tolerated on First Avenue. Not content with that corner of sleaze, they gradually worked their way up toward Fifth Avenue and the fancy hotels where the wealthier tricks congregated. When their business reached that far, though, it was time for a round of arrests. Streetwalkers weren’t tolerated on Fifth Avenue.

When the women got out of jail, the entire cycle started again. On First Avenue.

Of course Anchorage, like many cities (my own city of Seattle included), has cleaned up considerably since those wild and wooly days. But if you want to see some actual photographs from the era (it’s not all sleaze, BTW), check out these excellent images of Anchorage in the 1970’s, from Stephen Cysewski’s site. More photos here.

By the way, it’s worth scrolling through his site to see actual photos of the Kit Kat Club from back in the day. I have included one of them here, but really, go to Stephen’s site. It’s that good incredible.

Kit Kat Club Anchorage '70s (Stephen Cysewski)

Pay to Play

Two seemingly unrelated stories caught my eye today. The first is news from Amazon that it forecasts a “far weaker-than-expected outlook for the crucial holiday season quarter.” The reason? Spending on ramped up production for new Kindle models, one in particular:

It has spent heavily on its new Kindle Fire tablet computer and despite the overwhelming response that it has received prompting an increase [in] its production, Amazon said it might lose as much as $200 million in the fourth quarter.

Then we read about the new Bloomberg TV app for the iPad. Assume for the moment that the pundits are right in predicting this is the future of TV. Here’s the money quote:

The app is currently available for iPad devices only. Okaro [global head of Bloomberg mobile] says an edition for Android will come “in due course” but the iPad “is where the audience is at the moment.”

You have read on these pages that we don’t see the Amazon Kindle as a direct competitor to the iPad or, for that matter, the (so far anemic) Android tablet category. We stick by that. What’s of interest is Amazon’s willingness to sustain losses to get onto the playing field. At this point, they’re sounding more and more like “the other guys” in the Android tablet market. Spend big bucks on a device. Sell at a loss. Lower your expectations if not outright cancel the project (as HP did with its WebOS tablets).

We still think Amazon has a “better way,” because it adds compelling content to the equation. That’s something (almost) everyone else in Android’s extended family has neglected, to their detriment. But once more, Amazon is asking its investors to be patient as it buys market share.

I don’t know that Bloomberg can anoint anyone. Yet I’m curious as hell to see which member of the extended Android clan gets Bloomberg TV first. My one dollar bet is that we’ll see it debut on the Kindle Fire before it hits the rest of the Android ecosystem’s siblings, cousins, half-cousins and bastard step-children. The Fire will sell in ways unheard of for its Android rivals and will benefit accordingly. Meanwhile, we’ll keep a close eye on whether Amazon’s business model gamble pays off. I’m guessing it will but, so far, it’s been a losing formula.

The eBook Fragmentation Toolset

Writer and game designer Guido Henkel has weighed in on Amazon’s recent announcement of the KF8 format, which brings HTML5 to the Kindle. He makes the very salient point that, while it promises to move the platform forward, there’s a devil in the fine print. His concern? Platform fragmentation. As he rightly points out, the Kindle line now includes three sets of incompatible capabilities. The idea of “write once, run anywhere,” the catchy slogan Sun Microsystems coined to sell Java, deteriorates into that familiar rejoinder, “write once, debug everywhere.”

This is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast. As Andy Rubin, Google’s VP of Engineering, notes in The Guardian about a recent attempt to bring sanity to the mobile space: “There is always a dream that you could write [a program] once and [have it] run anywhere and history has proven that that dream has not been fully realised and I am sceptical that it ever will be.”

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some push-back. Vocal and persistent push-back. And if anyone knows about fragmentation, it should be Andy Rubin, Google’s Android guru. The Android platform is seriously fragmented. It’s so bad at the moment that developers actually have to decide which Android version (and hardware platform) to write for.

At the same time, it is clear to me that Amazon’s push for KF8 is a much-needed move toward HTML5, in support of the Kindle Fire. I would have preferred they adopt the ePub format, but I suspect Amazon doesn’t want to cut the MOBI cord entirely. The promise of backward compatibility is always tempting, especially when some of your developers (and PMs) were schooled at Microsoft.

So am I panicking yet? Well, I’m trying to keep things in perspective.

The hardest job, in my estimation, isn’t converting a work to the eBook format. The hardest job is writing the work in the first place. As I’ve said here a number of times, what I really want are BETTER TOOLS for that last mile, where conversion takes place. I was an early fan of Push Pop Press (gone). I think Adobe’s InDesign has great potential here. InDesign isn’t perfect, but Adobe has stepped up to the plate and released an ePub plug-in; Amazon has added its own Kindle plug-in to the mix. Good first steps.

Yes, it urinates me to have to create, I dunno, three or four versions of everything. I care what my work looks like. I tweak the code to improve the result. I loathe the idea of turning it over to Smashwords or Smashmouth or whatever the hell it’s called. So please, Amazon (and Apple, for that matter), don’t let this get out of hand. Next time you have a big idea about moving the eBook format forward, call Andy Rubin. No, wait. Don’t.

A Slight Explanation

Those of you with eagle eyes have no doubt noticed a host of “Butcher, Baker” posts with the same date (October 25, 2011). That’s because I have transitioned my blog to WordPress and I can’t bear to leave anything behind. Simply put, my posts were becoming more frequent. They were getting away from me. This is a much better solution, more appropriate for the long-haul.

Oh, and about the shoes in the header… They’re some pumps found in one of Hansen’s gravesites. They represent the women who weren’t found, weren’t identified, weren’t part of his self-serving confession. [Full Photo]

An Alaskan’s View of Robert Hansen

I recently came across this great remembrance of Robert Hansen by Alaska novelist Dana Stabenow.

She perfectly captures the ambivalence Alaskan’s feel about the Hansen movie. Yes, it’s a quintessential Alaska story. But as we note in the Epilogue of Butcher, Baker, “Those were real women Bob Hansen killed, real families who wept, and real graves that had been dug…”

In Alaska, there is a lingering sense of unrealized “frontier justice” surrounding Robert Hansen. No movie can change that. But if the Frozen Ground stays true to its focus on the sensitive trooper (Glenn Flothe), and the teenage prostitute whose escape led Troopers back to Hansen, it can put feelings and faces on Hansen’s crimes. From where I sit, that’s a good thing.

Too many women died in Hansen’s “summer project.” It took a ton of dedication by a lot of people, including a decade of police work, to put the man away. This is their story, as much as it is Robert Hansen’s.

Update: The Anchorage Daily News reports that, “BTW, we (the media) keep calling “The Frozen Ground” a movie about Hansen. Actually… the movie is more about Hansen’s final victim, Cindy Paulson, who escaped and helped investigators nail him.”

L.A. Times on Hansen Film

L.A. Times story on filming the Robert Hansen story in Alaska:

The project sought to stay true to the actual events of the story by filming in Alaska but the decision to film in the distant state was ultimately a financial one.

No surprise here. The state of Alaska has been going all out with tax credits encouraging filmmakers to come to Alaska. As always, the question is: how long will it last?

Frozen Ground Movie Updates

Having visited Anchorage a few weeks ago, I can (again) attest to the buzz about the Robert Hansen movie now filming there. I even met State Troopers who joked about auditioning for parts in the Hansen film. One said he hadn’t because, “I don’t look like a cop.” He was in uniform when he said that; he sure looked like a cop to me.

Interesting tidbit: The prop master says all the guns used in Frozen Ground are fakes. Except for the one used by Nicolas Cage. He insists on using the real thing. No word on whether Mr. Cage also insists on live ammunition.

October 19, 2011

Like I Was Sayin’
Bookstores Drop Comics in Battle with Amazon

One group is watching the tablet war with a certain detached amusement: comic book stores.

“This fight between Amazon and Barnes & Noble is like the tide or a storm or an earthquake,” said Jack Rems, owner of the Escapist Comic Bookstore in Berkeley, Calif. “Nothing I can do about it.”