Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Perfect Chess Opening

I know Anthony reads my chess posts. Good. This one's for you, Neo.

I have about 5 games of chess going at any given time on Its Your Turn. Most of my chess games are on a ladder of which I'm a member (currently ranked No. 756 of 1874 players) and once every blue moon, I play a game I really look forward to, a game which I actually get excited about. Not the kind of excited you get when see the bus coming, but the kind of excited that makes you get up out of bed in the morning and walk to your computer before you make coffee or go to the loo. I get excited about these kinds of games typically because I'm trying some cool strategy which is actually working. It is rare, believe you me.

In this particular game I achieved the traditional opening which I was taught so many years ago by Larry Evans. Most chess players use their opening moves to get into this coveted position... the problem is that but everyone knows that, too, so each player's attempts are almost always mucked up when the other player prematurely attacks.

Here's the game I played (no running commentary this time):

1. e4 e6
2. d4 Nc6
3. Nf3 a6
4. Be3 b5
5. Nc3 f6
6. Bd3 Bb7
7. Qe2 Bd6
8. e5 fxe5
9. Bg5 Nxd4
10. Nxd4 Qxg5
11. Ne4 Qf4
12. Nf3 Bb4+
13. c3 Bxe4
14. Bxe4 c6
15. g3 Bxc3+
16. bxc3 Qh6
17. Nxe5 Nf6
18. Nxc6 Nxe4
19. Qxe4 d5
20. Qe5 Kd7
21. Nd4 Rac8
22. Nb3 Rc4
23. Nd2 g5
24. Nxc4 bxc4
25. Qd4 Ra8
26. Rd1 Qf8
27. Qxc4 Rc8
28. Qa4+ Rc6
29. c4 Qe8
30. Rd4 Kd6
31. Qb4+ Rc5
32. Qb6+ Qc6
33. Qxc6+ Kxc6
34. O-O dxc4
35. Rfd1 Kb5
36. Rb1+ Ka4
37. Rd6 a5
38. Rbb6 c3
39. Rb3 Rc4
40. Rd3 c2
41. Ra3+ Kb5
42. Rdb3+ Rb4
43. Rc3 Rc4
44. Rab3+ Rb4
45. Rxc2 a4
46. Rxb4+ Kxb4
47. Rc7 Ka3
48. Rc2 h5
49. Kg2 g4
50. h3 1-0 (resigns)

And here's a beeeee-yooo-tiful pin/decouvert. Again, I'm only really pleased about this because I planned this pin and the game unfolded exactly so. What a rush. (No, I'm not an amazing player at all—Chess is a bloody difficult game to master and you have to relish your infrequent victories else you'll succumb to perpetual discouragement and crippling meloncholy.)

If I learned one thing about this game, it's that my end game spews chunks all over the sidewalk. I mean, spewage... everywhere. I'm sure I could have mated this guy around move 40, but no... I had to go spew outside instead because I had no freakin' clue what I was doing. Way room for improvement.

P.S. If you're a member of Its Your Turn, you should be able to interactively review this game by clicking here. And should any of you wish to spare with me, my nick is slade95816.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Game Design—Capitalist or Socialist?

We had a lead, and a good one at that. The year was 1999 and I was scrutinizing a wall-sized TV score board for a game show trivia contest at the now-defunct Entros restaurant in San Francisco. My ad agency, flush from a 200%+ growth cycle amidst The Year That Was The Dot Com Boom was celebrating its glory year. So, there I stood, staring at my scores with (my then girlfriend and now wife) Tracie and Hans.

By the rules of the game, our ad agency had been divided into groups of three and four. At the end of each round, if one team had a severe point lead over the other teams, the hostess would "adjust" that team's points downward to bring their points within striking distance of the other teams' points. Our lead was far and away beyond everyone else's... and then suddenly it wasn't. "Hey, that's not fair," Hans said quietly. "We earned those points."

Hans was totally right. And verily I say unto you: this was a socialist game, not a captialist game. In a socialist game, the losers are given a chance to score almost as soon as they have been scored upon (i.e. basketball) whereas in a capitalist game, the losers must fight twice as hard to regain an advantage (as in car racing).

Socialist games are more commonly played, most likely because they give the lesser skilled players a better chance at winning against the more skilled players. While this is more fun to watch, especially for non-players, for the winner in the lead, it blows chunks because they keep getting punished for doing well (or they must watch as the vanquished are given a "leg up"). Unfair for a few, but more playable by the many.

My mom was visiting for Christmas this year and she brought a Disney version of Monopoly for me and my wife to play. This got me thinking... are the core values of Disney even compatible with a game of Monopoly? After all, gaining THE monopoly is the sole objective of the game. Shutting out all the other players of the game—getting them to go bankrupt, in fact—is the game's self-named objective. That doesn't sound very Walt Disney-ish if you ask me!

And Monopoly is the most captialist of all capitalist games. You start with six to eight players. The game ends with one player and woe unto you if you get knocked out in the first hour... You had better have brought that scarf you've always wanted to finish knitting.

There are, however, some excellent capitalist games. Chess, for instance: if you take someone's piece, they can't win it back... unless they're cunning enough to advance their pawn to your back row. So Chess is very captialist: the powerful become more powerful and that's the end of it. But it ain't so bad playing a "winner takes all" game when there are only two players.

It is striking to me that America, which is such a capitalist culture, lists so many socialist games as among its most popular: Football, Basketball, Baseball, Soccer, Volleyball. Would that imply that socialist societies prefer capitalist games? In asian cultures, where there's less of an emphasis on individuality, is Monopoly or Chess or Risk or Car Racing more popular there? Or are their favorite games Soccer or Vollyball or Baseball or Basketball?

As long as games are defined with zero sums, there will always be a winner and loser. I have yet to see a game that doesn't define wins or losses in some kind of numerical fashion (the most armies, the most countries, the most dollars, the most words, etc.). There must be some game out there where everyone wins as a group without using a zero sum. And if such a game does exist, I wonder if it would be entertaining enough to watch on national TV.

Years ago, my wife and her friend Nancy started playing Squash together. Because neither of them were very good, they opted to not keep points. Instead, they called their Squash playing as "Cooperative Ballet Squash". No one ever won or lost.

But gawd, was it fun to watch.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

High Riverline

While dining at the Rio Cafe on the Sacramento River with my mother and wife, I was shocked to see the Sacramento River the highest I've ever seen it. Check out these pics:

Saturday, December 24, 2005

12 Move Checkmate

I usually don't brag about my chessplaying. Sure, I've been fortunate enough to be taught by some very good players, but I also get my ass regularly ass whipped by other players better than I. However... I do have my good days. And today was a red letter day because I checkmated some poor guy in 12 moves and that's awfully fast for chess.

This game was played on, a very cool little site for all kinds of games... backgammon, chess, checkers, scrabble, etc. They have a 24 hour chess ladder I play on which prevents me from stalling as long as a month between every move. On my particular ladder, there are over 1600 players and I am currently ranked 762 and climbing. Some of the players at my level whoop my arse, and some don't. When I stop climbing, I'll know my approximate skill level.

Before I tell you about the game, here's a rough and tumble glossary of chess terminology:

battery: a piece that protects your attacking piece

pin: a piece preventing an opponent's piece from moving because that move would put his King in check

fork: a piece that attacks two pieces simultaneously

decouvert: French meaning "uncover". A piece that, when moved, allows a 2nd piece to attack.

gambit: a sacrifice of a piece to gain a strategic advantage
Here's the game I finished playing today:
1. e4 d5
2. Nc3 d4
3. Nd5 e5
4. Bc4 Be6
5. Nf3 c6
6. Nxe5 cxd5
7. exd5 Bxd5
8. Qe2 Be7
9. Nxf7 Kxf7
10. Qh5+ Kf8
11. Bxd5 Nf6
12. Qf7# 1-0

And here's the game with my running commentary:

1. e4 I move my pawn out; a very traditional opening.
d5 He moves his pawn out, but not a traditional opening. What's he planning?

2. Nc3 I pull out my Knight to attack his pawn AND protect my pawn should he decide to take it.
d4 He moves his pawn forward to attack my Knight. Interesting. Since a Knight is very powerful in the center of the board, and it's currently under attack...

3. Nd5 ...I move my Knight to one of the center squares, where it's protected by my pawn.
e5 Now he moves his King's pawn out 2 squares. I'm unclear what he's planning, but this pawn protects the other pawn. Weird.

4. Bc4 Time to lay the foundation for a decouvert. I bring out my Bishop to align it behind my Knight, because my Knight will almost certainly will be forced to move shortly. After it does, my Bishop will be attacking F7, the King's Bishop square.
Be6 And, predictably, my opponent tries to thwart my decouvert by moving his Bishop in the way. Darn it!

5. Nf3 Okay... He's left his other pawn unprotected and if I could just get my other knight in the center squares, that combination could be really dangerous and leave me many options. So I'll bring out my other Knight to attack that E file pawn.
c6 Yup, it's time to move that other Knight, because he's attacking me now with a pawn. But where to go? You know, maybe an offense is a good defense... I'll just disregard his pawn attack and go ahead with my other plan...

6. Nxe5 ...and take that E file pawn. Crap, now I'm in a good position for a Bishop-Knight battery to maybe take his Queen. Very cool. Go ahead, buster, take that other Knight, I really don't care!
cxd5 Wow, he really didn't take my Knight. Oh well.

7. exd5 Well, no biggie. I can just take that pawn with my own pawn. Now I have his Bishop under attack by my pawn (which is protected by my Bishop), and I have a Knight in the center of the board AND a possible decouvert going. Sure, he's got one of my Knights now, and I have only 2 pawns, so I am down 1 point, but positionally, I have the advantage. Plus, his other pawn on the D file is unprotected. Yummy.
Bxd5 Oh, okay. He takes my pawn now with his Bishop. If he continues by taking my other Bishop, I can take his Bishop with my Knight. Even so, I'd rather not have him take my Bishop... Wait a minute... by moving his Bishop, he just freed up the rank in front of his King. If I moved my Knight away, I could put him in check with my Queen if I moved my Queen. Ooo! And if I moved my Knight to attack his Queen-which also would put him in check by using my Queen decouvert-he'd be screwed. I love decouverts!

8. Qe2 My plan for world domination commences: the Queen moves into position.
Be7 Crapper! He's seen my decouvert by moving his Bishop in front of his King. Still, if I move my knight away, his Bishop will be pinned against his King, at least until he moves his King. Hmmmm. I'm still focusing on that F7 square with my Bishop and my Knight... what if I throw him a gambit by taking his F7 pawn and forking his Queen and Rook? If I could lure him into take my Knight with his King, I could "buy" the knowledge that he couldn't castle; gaining that kind of knowledge this early in the game might be worth sacrificing that knight. I'm already down 2 points... Fuck it!

9. Nxf7 I take his pawn and say, "Queen in Danger" (that's the courteous thing to say)
Kxf7 Yes! He bought it! Okay... now I have to keep him in check if I can... keep him on the run... I can't move my queen out to F3, because his Bishop could take me out in a heartbeat. But if I bring my lady out to attack him from h5, then I'm forking his King and his Bishop at once. Cool!

10. Qh5+ The lady moves out. Check!!!!
Kf8 The King steps back. I bet he's saying, "Whoa! Where'd that come from???" But now my noose is tightening. If I can pull off a Bishop-Queen battery, I'll be butter. That probably won't happen, but I can at least position my Bishop to take out his Queen-side Rook and gain some points.

11. Bxd5 Yeah... I take his Bishop to pave the way for a Bishop-Queen battery. If he takes my Bishop with his Queen, I take his Queen... and then eventually his Queen-side rook.
Nf6 Nice move! He brings out his Knight to fork my Queen and Bishop. It's a good move, but it's just not fast enough...

12. Qf7# ...because when I move my Queen to f7, it's protected by my Bishop... and can only mean that:
1-0 I have put him in checkmate.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Myspace Comments: Prejudice in Awards?

On Myspace, the blogs can get a little out of hand. Today, my buddy Chad was talking in his blog about possible stereotyping and prejudice that happens in award selection. Scott added more stuff and suddenly I kind of got hyper and put in my 2 cents, too:

What Scott said is true, in my opinion. Should Hollywood see Latino filmmakers as the next batch of money-makers, we'll suddenly be flooded with films made by Latinos. Or if Hollywood sees women-made films as lining their investors' pockets, we'll see Hollywood discriminate in favor of female directors.

Personally, I feel that anyone in modern-day America who claims they are being discriminated against is allowing themselves to be portrayed as a victim and has surrendered their empowerment to The Powers That Be. Poor me... I didn't make it because everyone's a racist or a sexist... Hmmm. Had you not considered that your film has stilted dialog hastily scrawled in the midnight hours without months of creative scrutiny? Or that your plot sags and could use a good editor? Might it be possible that your story even targeted the wrong audience? Or could it be that your film actually isn't good enough? Noooo. It must be because someone else didn't see your creative genius the way you saw it. And they took one look at your byline and said, "He's/She's a XXXXX, and no XXXXXs can make good films because they're XXXXXs." Absolutely. That must be it. It's the only possible answer... isn't it?

Just make a great fucking movie and no one will care who you are or what what color your skin is... they'll give you cash to see it over and over again. Study the craft. Master the craft. Write under a nom de plume if you really think discrimination is the source of your failures and see if you get dramatically different results. Regardless, I truly believe that if you write a good story, the awards will come. Or the Hollywood funding. Or box office success. Or maybe all three.

Even then, you have no guarantee: as William Goldman says, "Nobody knows anything."

Case in point: one of the best films of the year, 21 Grams, was made a Latino whose name I can't even pronounce. Christ, why does it matter so? It is a great film! Write a great story and someone will fall over themselves to give you money to make it into a movie.

The trick, of course, is to write a great story. Aye, there's the rub.

Here's the original Myspace blog.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

On the set of THREADING OVER DARK (Dec. 10th)

Filming movies is a little tedious at times, but every time I see a slate, I get a little gooey inside. Yes, I'm sure that's not a word. Whatever. To propertly log the shots for the edtitor, a script supervisor would have to take copious notes. In the digital age, it's just easier to to take a picture of the slate and then a snapshot of the preview monitor. The guy holding this slate is Scott Chema, whose crotch is almost always directly behind the slate. Scott's crotch has been photographed by accident on more than one occasion.

Today we shot scene 11, the scene where the main character Jeffrey Starken (played here by Marcus Allen) awakens from a coma to become smitten with his bedside nurse Amanda (played here by April Potter).

Lacie Oakley, pictured here giving Starken the full make-up treatment, did a great job. Those scabs looked quite real.

Right click on any of these pics to see larger versions.

And check out the film's web site—they recently added some cool behind the scenes featurettes worth viewing.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Introducing... "The Bitch Line"

I learned about "the bitch line" a few years ago... it's an expression for a common trap we can, and do, fall into. The supreme irony about "the bitch line" is that it usually cannot be discussed without referring to the very incident that caused it, which is exactly what the bitch line is about: Norman does something to me that's rude, so—instead of telling Norman I thought he was being rude—I go telling all my friends what he said (rather, what I thought he said) and get them all to agree with me ("Don't you think that was rude, too?") and when I have gathered enough people who have heard my very convincing side of the story, I bring my "bitch line" along to confront Norman. Clearly, I must be right, Norman... after all, look at all my friends here who agree with me!

It sounds so childish, doesn't it? How could grown adults fall victim to such puerile, petty behavior? Yet, I have seen grown men far older than me who should know better get sucked into hearing only one side of a story and casting premature judgement.

How do you short circuit the bitch line? Address the source of the bitch line directly: "I felt what did was rude, Norman." That's it. End of story. You don't get to recruit friends and family into why they should empathize with you. You get to vent, maybe, but not lean on them to agree with you. As Sonny Crockett once said, "Major uncool."

There. Now I've successfully brought up a bitch line without referencing any person or incident in particular. Should I ever mention "the bitch line" in future, you'll know precisely what I'm talking about, right?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

REVIEW: The Passion of The Christ

First things first:

1) If you're a practicing Christian, you might be offended by this.
2) If you're overly sensitive to profanity or anything profane, you might be offended by this.
3) If you're a fire and brimstone bible-thumper, I guarantee that you will be offended by this.


Wow, that's better. I feel like I can let my hair down and say what I want without having my house shit-bombed. Which is bad. Being shit-bombed is so... icky. I can barely clean my cat box without throwing up in my mouth a little. So being shit-bombed would definitely make me spew.

The other day, I finally got around to seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ, the film that everyone called him nuts for doing because it was in the original Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic. Maybe I missed the memo going around about it, but... what was this film about exactly? Jesus gets nabbed, he gets punished, then crucified. Um... yeah, I already knew all that. Why do I really need to see two Roman sadists flay a man to death? Can you say, "gratuitous"?

Sure, if you're a Christian, and Jesus was the man you believe is God Incarnate and you've taken him into your heart and know the story inside and out... hell yeah, you should see this film. But don't expect a story... it's just a series of events strung together without any new insights about its subject matter. Except maybe that you understand why Christians are so pissed off at the Jews for insisting Jesus get the nail treatment. That was pretty nasty.

Having said all that, I must say that Gibson does a bloody great job at showing you what Ancient Gallilee would have been like: the Romans speak Latin as naturally as if it were modern day Italian, and the garb they wear is not as pristine as we have seen in other films... instead, everything is dingy and dust-covered, as one would expect it to be in Ancient Gallilee. This film, for all of its lack of story, is real... almost too real.

The one thing Gibson did that sent me into fevered eye-rolling convulsions was his overuse of slow-motion. When a director uses slow-mo, it's intended as a tool to savor the moment, as if he's saying to the audience, "Here! Watch this! Isn't this amazing!?!?" Slow motion can be used with stunning effectiveness as in The Matrix or The Untouchables, but—like many cool techniques—it can be overused, too. While many love Peter Jackson and worship him as a demi-god, Jackson is waaaaay guilty of this, especially in Return of The King. Like, dude, we get it already... Sauran is being vanquished—why do we have to see slow-mo reactions from every character in Middle Earth??? Gibson showed Jesus' capture with so many slow motion takes that I thought it would be an hour before we would get to the next scene.

Still, Passion is beautifully shot, and—simply because of its subject matter and how accurately it seems to be portrayed—is worth seeing. If you're a Christian or revere the teachings of Jesus, then you absolutely must see it. Just don't expect much of a plot.

One final thought. In the time of Mosaic Law, it must have been revolutionary for anyone to pray for their own murderers. Truth be told, it remains a little radical. Sure, to read about someone forgiving their killers is one thing, but to actually see a man experience so much torture and anguish, to have his body savagely flayed and then nailed to a piece of wood, and then still pray for his punishers... well, it just blows me away.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I, Script Supervisor

How could I have been the only one to have noticed it?

Yet there I was, surrounded by a roomful of film enthusiasts, and I suddenly felt like a full-figured blonde in an E.F. Hutton moment. "You're right!" James said. "Wow, I've seen this film 20 times and I never made that connection."

The film was the hysterical Home Base, about a woman who wincingly breaks up with her boyfriend. "Wow," she sighs, "I didn't expect you to take it this well," she says.
"That's because I know what I'm going to do," he responds.
"What's that?"
He takes a bite of his food. Then: "I'm going to fuck your mother."
"Nick! That's disgusting."
"No, I'm serious. Go home and tell your mother she's about to get fucked."

The hilarity ensues from this hysterical moment, as Nick does, indeed, end up taking his ex-girlfriend's mother out on a date... and, well, you get the idea. See the film. It's funny.

Back to my world—inbetween setups on Threading Over Dark, I'm standing with a roomful of other filmmakers watching this brief scene from Home Base where the mother simply walks past a mailbox. Why, I asked myself, would the filmmakers go to the trouble to film this particular scene? It didn't appear to add anything to the story, or the characters.

Frequently, I won't understand why a certain scene is in a film until retrospectively. Since I am cursed with a semi-photographic memory (my mother used to say I could recite scenes from films almost verbatim), I often recall a scene and wonder what the filmmaker was thinking when they went to all the trouble to shoot it; the craft of filmmaking is an often tedious medium and before you set up a shot, its function in the film as a whole has been questioned by countless people. Not much gets past that gauntlet to the editing room, even in the relatively "cheap" medium of video.

One scene that still bugs me is the hand in the last scene of Atom Egoyan's The Adjuster—I know Egoyan was trying to say something with it, but I'm buggered if I know what it is. I only recently understood the tunnel sequences and circular building interiors from Fruit Chan's (brilliant but nauseating) "Dumplings" segment in Three Extremes.

Yet here I was, studying this scene with the mother walking past the camera. Suddenly I heard myself blurt out, "Notice that the mother is wearing red and white, the same colors as the mailbox." In itself, this wouldn't have been too meaningful... except that earlier in the film, Nick had humped the mailbox to taunt his ex-girlfriend (while silently mouthing, "This is your mother!"). Now everyone is looking at me with lightbulbs over their heads and I'm starting to blush.

Observing, recording and comparing details is the essense of being a Script Supervisor. You get to track dialogue, movement, costumes, makeup, props, and all over the course of 20 days or more... the task is ginormous sometimes. But I like to obsess about details, so it really is a good fit for my character. It's ironic, but I never knew this about myself until recently. It's like your parents looking all over for their glasses when they're wearing them on their head. Duh!

Now I'm working on Something In The Clearing as a Script Supervisor, and shooting starts in five days. We go for 11 days this month, and another 11 days next month. Plus, the producers told me last week that they were a stone's throw away from getting Stephen Baldwin, but they say he's a $1 million actor. Bastage! I'm still going to meet you one day, Stephen... you can't get away from me that easily.

Don't look so smug. I mean it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Oscar Season 2005

This year's Oscar Nominations are January 31st, 2006 and the Awards Ceremony is on March 5th. As an "artiste"—whatever the bloody hell that means—I wish I could say I didn't care about the Oscars. Really. But I do. Oh how I care...

This filmmaker has said almost exactly how I feel about it:

"I don't know what kind of lies filmmakers tell you, and I could be accused of vanity for admitting I think about it," says director Bennett Miller," whose "Capote" put Philip Seymour Hoffman in the best-actor race. "I think it's vanity ... to say that you don't. Because you do."

Even to have your film get an Oscar Nomination is huge.
Even to have your film considered for an Oscar Nomination is huge.
Even to have a film worthy enough of an Oscar Nomination is huge.

But to win an Oscar? Holy Christ. It's the like the Mother Lode!

And I'm not stupid about confusing the award as the end all goal of filmmaking: winning an Oscar isn't that important in itself—honestly, it's not cool or really very nice to be labled "better" than other filmmakers because that feels chinsey and small—it's that winning an Oscar opens up more doors for you to make better movies. Forever. That's the biggest Kahuna Burger you could ever order. Which is one tasty burger.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Star Trek: Season Four

For some reason, when it comes to sci-fi, the fans come in one model only: diehard. When Star Wars fans made Troops—about how Luke's foster parents were killed because of a domestic abuse incident gone bad—it became an instant classic. Even bad fan films are of note, if only for the time dedicated to making the film.

Well, this time it's Trek fans and they just raised the bar on fan films. These geniuses have started making the unmade fourth season of the original Star Trek, and from what I've seen so far, it's extremely well done. Of course, the acting's a little stilted, but hey, it's a remake of a 1960's TV show. What do you want?

This distribution method is similar to what I'm going to emulate with my feature-length sci-fi film Safe Harbors, so I'm pleased to hear these guys get some press: here's the Wired's article about New Voyages.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

New Formalist Poetry & Mislaid Apostrophes

W. H. Auden is one of my favorite comic poets. "Serious" literary critics prefer to lambast Auden as not having been as great as he could have been, but to them all I sway my finger with a disdainful tish tosh. If Auden was so awful, then why are we still talking about him? The really awful poets have already been forgotten. Anyway, I would argue that good comic verse is far more rewarding than old turgid verse. I mean, rilly. Who wants to sit in a tree somewhere and read some bard bemoaning the tattered state of world injustice hundreds of years ago? Without blinking, though, I could read comic verse for 40 hours straight and then go make a sandwich.

As for great comic poets in our own age, Mark Jarman is of special note (as well as being a "serious" poet, too). In fact, Jarman edited a collection of "New Formalist" poetry called Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism, and its selections are delicious, even... dare I say it... amusing. New Formalism is a modern movement of new poets using old poetry conventions like sestinas, sonnets, and the like. If you like to read rhyming verse, you must own this book!

Being a writer, I'm often troubled by how common grammatical errors propagate in the public forum. Of course, I'm certainly no angel of perfection, but it ails me that so many people simply don't know or don't care about upholding certain rules of grammar... like the rules of using an apostrophe for possessives ("its" or "their") vs. contractions ("it's" or "they're). This is not an issue of writing style, and therefore not within the realm of debate: you either break the apostrophe rule, or you dont. I mean, "don't".

In the tradition of Auden and Jarman, I thought I'd whip together my own comic ditty on the subject...

Ode to Our Mislaid Apostrophes

O wonderful, mischievous, slippery mark:
I want to punctuate, but youre location is stark.
My meanings are loose, my intentions skewed—
my editors pens could leave me quite screwed!
They often complain that theyre English is good
while my typewritten words barely understood
If only Id divine when its was not it's
they just might be able to keep all there wits
Or not mistake they're when it really is there,
or swap out a your when you're is somewhere...
I find it so silly. Cant you understand my thought?
Is my english so bad that new laws must be wrought?
I suppose who and whom can go fly with the dodo
for who really cares, but Gandalf and Frodo
In fact, I will drop all punctuation at once
and no one around will suspect me a dunce
for they too will know what I mean with my word
so why need I try its so pointless absurd
lets assassinate all grammer and speling as well
im sure every school kid would love to us tell
how much they hate engish and other dim arts
no need to learn standards when its old pompous farts
insisting they bend to the will of those rules
like all human beings are grammatical mules
o wunderful mischevious slipery mark
i would use you if only i knew where you park
but no one cares now if youre lost to the wind
since apostrofe rules they wish to recind
its a simple mater of its usage you kno
wheter your is correct in your sentance flow
ah who cares no one maybe only a fyew
i do wish theyd speek up oh how I doo

P.S. If you struggle with "it's" vs. "its", try to recreate the contraction without an apostrophe ("it's" into "it is", "you're into "you're", "they're" into "they are"). If you cannot take out the apostrophe, then use the one that doesn't have it: its, your, their.
Or, even simpler: "it's" is a contraction of "it is"; all other versions are "its."