Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Bird watching special

I wonder what sort of finch this is? I can't find it in my California birds book.  First time visitor!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: The City Born Great, by N. K. Jemisin (Old People Read New SFF)

James Nicoll, the SF reviewer extraordinaire, has had a long running web blog series in which young people read old SF and review it. Spoiler: The results were, generally, that young people did not see the restless beauty and godlike mastery in 40s, 50s and 60s science fiction that we oldies, who read it as it came out, were wont to see in it. They often saw Hugo-winning work as sexist, ludicrous and stiff.

So James has initiated a series in which old people read new (online accessible) SFF. I was going to say, to see if older people feel a similar generation gap, but come to think of it, he hasn't actually said that.

I am one of the old people. In this first post, we are reviewing N K Jemisin's The City Born Great.

Read the story at this link (but don't read the website's introduction until afterwards!) and then read our old farty reviews at this link.

If you want to read the older Young People Read Old SF reviews, they are all at the same website. And very informative they are too.

Illustration for the Tor website publication by Richie Pope

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Medusa's Ankles, a short video with Jason Isaacs

The legendary Jason Isaacs, in a short (20 minutes) adaptation of an AS Byatt short story, Medusa's Ankles.  As usual, he's great, but as usual he's not the hero so his character falls disappointingly short in morals, ethics and intelligence.

His smarmy hairdresser is certainly miles away from his ruthless, coarse Zhukov in Death of Stalin (which I forgot to review here), but he's just as compelling.

Alas, the last scene (without Isaacs) is disappointing. I checked the original text, and it's what she wrote - basically boils down to "Oh, your new look beautiful. Why didn't you do that before?" I preferred the meek tiger she was before.  But we can't blame that on Jason. (Or on Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), who directed it.)


For those of you who missed Death of Stalin, here's a taste of Jason Isaacs as Zhukov. It's an odd little film - a lot of moral questions with no answers - but superbly acted and directed.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Cementgate - the Operation Backyard Brawl Hobo Camp

The latest Qanon-style conspiracy theory: A group of armed men has discovered something that looks, to normies, to be an abandoned hobo camp but is actually a major child-kidnapping and torture site linked to Pizzagate, the Rothschilds, the Clinton foundation, Da Joos, cement (cement? yes, cement) and the spirally-triangular symbol that seems really important to people like this but I've never found out what it is.

The police and a cadaver dog checked it out and, yep, it's a hobo camp. But to the Veterans on Patrol people, that's just evidence that the cover-up goes all the way to the top.

More info (and I don't recommend you doing this unless you have alcohol to hand) at Twitter hashtag #OperationBackyardBrawl

The twitter thread spelling this all out is by JJ McNabb and starts here:

Threadreaderapp doesn't seem to be unrolling for this thread, so you have to actually go to Twitter and read it, how 2015 is that.

This JJ McNab seems to be an interesting twitterer...

Walmart and detention camps

Talking of conspiracy theories, remember this one? For years, right wing conspiracy theorists have claimed that various Walmarts, which have been suddenly closing 'for plumbing repairs', are in reality being taken over by FEMA, who are turning them into detention camps for patriots.

FEMA's association with Walmart started in the eighties with Project Nine Aught Eight, the name of the project to ensure government continuity after a devastating incident (i.e. nuclear war, in those days), when Walmart was one of the major companies consulted. The cover story for the agents' questions was that these big companies all have disaster plans, and so would be able to provide good information. The actual agreements were for rentals of their facilities as bases.

FEMA, as we all know, branched out into less existentially threatening disasters, with results that I'm going to characterize as 'mixed', though I'm sure if you lived in New Orleans or Puerto Rico you'd be less polite. It runs a lot of simulations to check how well it would respond in a real emergency, and these simulations themselves lead to conspiracy theories - because in a fake crisis, you obviously have to employ 'crisis actors' and once you've got them on the books, what other things are they going to be used for? (Nudge nudge wink wink.) The military also run training simulations, and nothing makes patriots more suspicious than soldiers running around in America. A combination of a black president and the Jade Helm 15 military exercise led to much outcry that the military was getting ready to round up good old boys and stick them in...Walmarts. They'd be aided and abetted by Chinese troops who would be outfitted with gear and arms stored in...repurposed Walmarts.

Obama, although remaining sinisterly dusky, did not lock up all the patriots and now we have a new president. We also have hundreds of missing refugee children and several hundred newly separated refugee children. This week we have a US senator trying to get into a supposed detention center for the newer refugee children in McAllen, Texas, housed in a... Walmart.

Look at the Jeff Merkley video. Pretty similar to the one above (minus the apocalyptic music), no?

I can't tell if this means a) The wingnuts are correct and closed Walmarts are detention centers or b) this timeline is being written by a hack who is reusing tropes because they can't come up with a new twist.
Addendum: The camp admits it is real:
1. Project 908
3. 2015 Jade Helm 15 military training theories
4. 2015 Walmart closure theories
5. 2018 Children's detention center claim

Friday, June 01, 2018

He say you Blade Runner

I'm back from LA. I forgot to post the last photographs, so here they are.

When I say I'm "back from LA", I live sixty miles away. To many folks, that's *in* LA and I'm one of them Califurnians with the Hollywood and the city with no 'there' there.  Before I moved to the US, when I wrote for advice on living here to a Californian writer, lo these 30 years ago, he said he lived in SF and LA was "the eighth circle of hell". Or maybe seventh or tenth but you get the picture. Anyway, sixty miles is a lot. I live in a town of (according to the city limits sign) 35,000-ish people, which is smaller than the town I was born in. It has open spaces, lots of horses, and a community website filled with people who have lost cats and people who are berating them for not taking care of their pets properly.

Person 1: Help! I've lost me cat.
Person 2: You should take more care of your cat.
Person 3: Oh no I've lost muh cat plz find him
Person 4: You useless excuse for a human, how dare you lose your cat!
Person 5: Ma dog's gone missing.
Person 6: Fuck you, subpar dog owner! Don't you know there's coyotes about!
Person 3: I found mah cat,,,thanks every bod
Person 7: Don't lose him again you feckless maroon.
Person 2: I saw a coyote or maybe it was your dog at the end of the street last night.
Person 7: Here's 65 numbers for the police, animal control, agricultural extension, mayor, sheriff, vector control and dogcatcher. I've phoned them all about the rabid coyote attacking dogs at the end of your street and we should all call constantly until something is done about the coyote menace that's causing us to cower in fear in our own homes like prisoners in a world gone mad.
Person 1: I've lost me cat again. Come back little kitty I love you.
Person 2: You should be guillotined and your head displayed on a stake you vicious pet-losing animal. Your kind is worse than Hitler.

And so forth. The topic changed abruptly yesterday because someone saw a girl at one of the communal swimming pools wearing a thong, so she wrote in to tell us that we should stop destroying our children's lives by forcing them to see women's bodies at the pool, in Southern California. Not surprisingly there's been a bit of a backlashette about her opinion. Right now it's up there with the electric company's eminent domain grab of some of our prime real estate, the reactions to the guy who wants to build a farmers market on a plot of unimproved mud near the town center which will increase traffic and no doubt cause poltergeists and werewolves to break out all over town, and the guy who wants to house the town's homeless people in the empty toilet-flush factory that closed down a couple of years ago.  Lost cats are temporarily put aside for such momentous matters as these.

Anyway, it's sixty miles from LA. I took a taxi down from LAX once, several years ago, and the taxi driver got increasingly agitated as we entered Orange County, and became almost alarmed as we got to south county. Eventually, he blurted: "Why do you live all the way down here?!"

Silly me, I had thought that LAX was "all the way up there" and where I lived was "right here". Glad he put me straight.

Angels Flight on 3rd Street, where we left off

While I was in LA, you may recall, I visited the 3rd Street funicular, Angels Flight. A couple of streets down from there is the Grand Central Market, and next to that, the very much photographed and filmed Bradbury Building.

(c) Google

I know the Bradbury Building best from Blade Runner. At the time of filming it was run-down, and Ridley Scott added creepiness and running rainwater to make it look even more desolate. It's been completely refurbished and looks stunning today.  I don't know what the Grand Central Market looked like when Ridley Scott was scouting locations back there in the early eighties, but right now, it looks exactly like the LA street scenes in the movie, except for less Tik and Tok moving through the crowds. The woman who said, "Not fish scale - snake scale!" is definitely there, as is Taffy Lewis and his scummy burlesque. (At least in spirit.)

Bradbury Building entrance

Bradbury Building's superb iconic look

STB in the Bradbury hallway

Bradbury entrance

Bradbury Building's cage elevator

The building opposite the Bradbury

You may recognize the architectural details at the top of this theater from Blade Runner as well. It's across a full-size street from the Bradbury Building, so I don't think Roy Batty could have jumped it in the rain, however superior he was to us humans.

Inside the market, there's every food known to man.

It can be hard finding a spot to sit. I'm not surprised Deckard had to wait in the rain until he was beckoned over by the stall-holder. 

No, I didn't use the photo of the Pupuseria with you in it, woman who looked aghast that I was taking photos. I might use it later, but I'll blur you out, promise.

Thai guy on the boil at the Sticky Rice shop. I had a great red curry, and STB had a wonderful sea-food soup and a chicken something-or-other.  It was too good for us to keep notes.

Thai guy's pots, a lovely still life vista in the bustle of the market.

After that, it was back down south, to whyever the heck we live so far southsville and our exciting neighborhood website. I'll miss you, tenth circle of hell!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Darth Maul lightsaber demo

Ray Park demonstrates  Darth Maul's lightsaber technique to a con crowd that weirdly includes a Darth Maul cosplayer. He looks like he's keeping quiet and hoping to learn something. At the end, he nods, sagely.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Angels Flight and 3rd Street Tunnel

This is where we left off, the 3rd Street tunnel exit under the Bank of America.

I walked up to the top of the hill and back down on to Hill Street. From there you can see the tunnel entrance and the bottom of Angel's Flight. The funicular used to be next to the tunnel but it was dismantled during the the big build-up on the crest of the hill and when it was put back together, it was half a block further away.

I did try to take a picture from the parapet of the tunnel exit, but the Bank of America security guard went into full security mode and wouldn't let me do it.

 The tunnel entrance isn't as pretty (or as crazed with cracks) as the exit. It looks like a multi-level parking structure or something.

To the left of it is the facade of Angel's Flight. Oh, it looks like it may be Angels Flight. Well, you learn something every day.

 Going up! It costs a dollar. Pay at the top.

 The funicular car interior. Lovely wood.

And the view back down the hill. The tunnel entrance would be to the left of this picture at the bottom.

The buildings above the tunnel entrance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Spending the week in LA, at SID (Society for Information Display), probably one of the few places where on eavesdropping the conversation at Starbucks, I would hear someone say of something he'd seen there, "It was pretty close...within 0.004 millimeters."
Here are some photos of the pretty part of town, i.e. not where the convention center is. The convention center is in Dossville, USA. I was surprised this morning at quite how many streams of urine emanated from doorways where people had evidently slept. I would have thought they'd try to keep the two activities separate. 

The third picture, the odd tunnel, is the 3rd Street tunnel, which has quite a history that I would have to recount some other time, but suffice to say it's a tunnel through the hill at 3rd street.
At first I walked up the hill (behind your back in the photo) and was prepared to walk down 3rd Street to the tunnel, but when I got to the bottom of the hill, there was no crossing. There was only a pedestrian subway of such Stygian aspect and such malodor that I literally did not dare go in. I walked back up the hill, up to 4th Street, down and back along to 3rd. When I got to the crossing there a homeless vet sprang out and pressed the crossing signal button for me and for a few seconds I was terrified that he was Charon, and therefore didn't give him any money. I walked to the middle of the street I got close enough to take the picture and got out of there, without Eurydice or indeed anyone else, following me. Charon had moved on, and so missed out on his payment.

Friday, May 18, 2018

You Are The Product

General wisdom states that "If you don't pay for this service, it means *you* are the product."

Google (among other heavyweights, including the Chinese government) seem to be evolving this paradigm to, "And we can make you into a *better* product!"

Neoliberalism means everything is for sale, and Google appears to be taking one concept behind that a step further. You may not actually want to sell your soul, but years of labor in capitalist workplaces have embedded the idea that Continuous Improvement applies to your inner being whether you do or don't.

PDCA cycle

We've used Lean in the workplace. We've used Kanban. We use Kaizen. We've even used that Marie-Kondo-for-manufacturers, 5S.  I'm a Six Sigma Green Belt, and could, if prompted, tell you the history of process improvement from Shewhart's Statistical Process Control, through the giant of the field Deming, to Motorola and DMAIIC, to the Lean techniques of today.

So much so that we feel a nagging sense that we should use these powerhouses on improving ourselves.

Well, be nagged no more. Google is in the process of developing a way we can ask ourselves what customer-related CTQs (issues that are Critical to Quality) we may have, measure the problem, analyze the problem, develop an improvement, implement a solution and continuously measure it to make sure our improvement is not falling behind (control).

It's called Google Selfish Ledger. (The name is apparently borrowed from Dawkins' Selfish Gene but refers somehow to epigenetics.) It's a compendium of everything you've ever done in the vicinity of your phone, but rather than remaining a dumb repository of data, it is imbued with a sense of purpose, in order to find out more about you and guide you towards the ultimate you - your Life Goal. It will prompt you to do and buy things in line with Google's values - for example, local fresh food.

Personal improvement is only the bait dangled by Google. The ultimate aim is that the ledgers will eventually, acting more like Dawkins' Memes than Selfish Genes, pass down your information to the next generation, where they will be "sequenced" in the same way geneticists sequence genomes, enabling more accurate predictions and solutions to societal problems.   (Via The Verge.)

Whereas one has to love Google's endearing hubris, I'm not convinced that this total loss of individual privacy and freedom will lead to the Land of Milk and Honey.  For one thing, if Ledger prompts you to do things, then by definition it is not *your* behavior, but your natural behavior augmented by an outside influence. This will result in a positive feedback loop. The Ledgers' overall understanding of human behavior, when sequenced, will not encode human behavior, but Google users who have been prodded and poked into doing things differently. It will be an interesting thing, but it won't be human.

Here is the video from The Verge.

(Note: I could not find the promised link to the Google video)

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

VPRO: Detroit Music Scene Documentary (White Stripes, Dirtbombs, more)

Excellent 2001 video documentary of the Detroit Scene from 2001. Features the White Stripes (of course) along with Mick Collins of The Dirtbombs and half a dozen other faces of the time.

Mick Collins has the best laugh in rock music. It makes you happy even though most of the time he's doing Deep Thinking. (So follow him on Twitter  !) Among the others featured is Arthur Dottweiler, who was the White Stripes manager at the time (in the same sense that Jack White and Meg White were brother and sister at the time). I love Arthur Dottweiler for some reason and he can manage me any time he likes. (The names Dottweiler/Dattwyler/Tutwiler are some of my favorite names too. Dr. Ray Dattwyler is a Lyme Disease researcher which means he's tangentially related to Peromyscus; Tutwiler is the city in Mississippi where W. C. Handy first encountered the Blues.)

Anyway, that's nothing to do with this documentary which is all about the time when Detroit was an organically happening place. Makes me wish I had a time machine and some spare air miles.

13 minutes 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Las Vegas Strippers Accept Bitcoin via QR Tattoos

I know this sounds like the fyootcher, but it's not actually the real future until someone's thought of a way to hack it or 'disrupt' it or 'disintermediate' it to their advantage.
I shall expect to see *that* headline tomorrow.

The Kills and Jack White: Two new songs in one day

It's our lucky day: two new songs at once.

Over and Over and Over, from Jack White's forthcoming album Boarding House Reach and The Kills' List of Demands.

The Kills: List of Demands - a cover of the Saul Williams' song

Jack White: Over and Over and Over

The Kills are leaning a bit on the MOR side for me, but it's an excellently produced track that will sound good for hundreds of listens, and the video is memorable. I still want to be Alison when I grow up. The Jack White track brings the riffage, and the lyrics (that I can make out) are pretty deep, but overall I'm not quite as taken with it. The backing singers sound bolted on, like an aftermarket spoiler on a street car. And the bongos. Man, what's with the bongos? I assume he can afford an Amen Break sample like everybody else.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The House on the Hill Opposite

This week is the week the house on the hill opposite lights up at dawn.

This week, February 2018

Previously on the hill, February 2016

It doesn't change much. I still don't think it's occupied. The dumper truck was there for years, but it's gone now.  Today we just have some sort of beam propped up against the front. Palm trees on the top are better trimmed but the weed-whacking seems to have gotten out of hand. Whoever put up that orange construction fencing hasn't bothered to take it down yet.

But boy, does it glow at dawn.


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