Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween Jack O'Lantern

Here's something really scary - a genetically modified pumpkin expressing Drosophila genes (the mad scientist's favorite fruit fly).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Have you felt down the back of the sofa?

They played "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" over the PA at the bar today. That song must be twenty years old now.

I asked STB "Do you think he's found it since then, but they're still playing the song? Perhaps he should issue some sort of song-related cancelbot to take the copies out of circulation."

STB said, "We should just release a counter song called, "Well, Where Did You Last See It?""

Friday, October 27, 2006

Stoned Fruit: Kossoff Live at Leeds

I was lucky enough to see Paul Kossoff play shortly before he died. People who saw him play after he died seem to agree he wasn't at his best then. Worse, he didn't get chance to recover completely. Only a few months after that, he died again, permanently this time. I saw him February, 1975, playing with John Martyn's band. I went the same night as John Martyn recorded his set for the Live at Leeds album, though I didn't know that was about to happen. Since the subsequent release was a limited mail order album, I didn't get to hear it until it was re-issued on CD. The re-release, unlike the vinyl release, has "added bonus tracks" featuring his guest guitarist, Paul Kossoff.

I went to the gig with a school-friend, arriving there early, since school looses at four. The evening started out weirdly enough. As we approached the Leeds University buildings a couple came up to us and the man asked (in a strange southern accent) where some building was.

"Excuse me – where do I find the [mumble] building? Wait, do you understand me? I don't speak Yorkshire. What's the Yorkshire for 'excuse me'?"

"Tyke," said my friend. "The dialect's called Yorkshire Tyke. You say, 'Si tha 'ere.'" (Literally, "see you, here.")

The man was excited. "Hey!" he called to his friend, who was gazing blankly into space with her arms folded like an arms-foldy StarGazy Pie fish, "Yorkshire dialect for 'Excuse me' is 'Kythera'!"

I have no idea what his association was with Kythera (if indeed that's what he said – it sure sounded like it). His friend didn't seem impressed and they wandered off in search of the building I've since forgotten. We went on to the concert hall.

When we got closer to the auditorium, I could hear the loudest and most perfect sound ever made. It wasn't the loudest sound ever heard where I was, outside the building, of course, otherwise, inside the building it would be louder than the loudest sound ever heard, maybe even as loud as the sun or something really loud like that. It was pretty damn loud though. It was a sound check, the instrument being checked was the guitar, and it was evidently Paul Kossoff playing. The music was beautiful, haunting and plaintive without being incomplete – the word plaintive always suggests to me that something is missing; this wasn't missing anything. It was perfect. It sounded like a swan-song, the sound that's made when you put everything into the present because there will be no time in the future. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I stood stock still, listening.

"Probably just a roadie," said my friend, whose name I believe is in the dictionary under "cynical" to this day. After a while my feet unglued and I walked on, thinking I'd hear more later that evening. I was wrong.

While I was wasting time with Ms. Sarcasm, according to Uncut Magazine, Paul Kossoff was out getting himself beaten up for trying it on with someone's bird. [1] According to this report, John Martyn took up cudgels on his friend's behalf, but on finding out Kossoff was the perpetrator, he became less than sympathetic and finished the job himself. I don't know if this had any effect on either of their subsequent performances.

At the appointed time, we went inside. I have to admit that I wasn't a big John Martyn fan. I'd heard the two tracks Solid Air and I'd Rather Be The Devil many times on the late night radio shows and liked them well enough; but anything else I'd heard struck me as being too folkie. Folk music always conjured up the image of equal parts my parents (who were folkies once upon a time) and hippies, who were, well, hippies. Overall, that's not a pretty picture. Also, I thought John Martyn was a bit of a man's man. Not that I have anything against men's men per se. It's just that there's nothing there for me. Nothing to admire or imitate, no opening for me to get inside and look around, or even think about possessing. A man's man to me is something striking on the horizon that I've never been tempted to investigate further, like a termite mound or a pissoir. Good luck to him, but we're not on the same track.

During this tour, Kossoff did not come on stage until the encore. I didn't know that before I went. So I sat through the first part of the set listening to things I normally avoided, like double bass, jazz breaks and John Martyn's guitar playing, which if you haven't heard it, at the time was frequently transformed from electro-acoustic folkie chordage to hypnotic-clouds-of-glory by his use of an Echoplex. It's the sort of sound that Frippertronics would make if Robert Fripp had visited the Earth and knew the ways of its inhabitants, a device to build on a rhythm until it seems to unroll another dimension and bounce off down it in an impossible yet somehow just right direction.

Since I don't remember much of the show, I listened to the CD while writing this. Unfair of me; it was a live performance and as such was really intended to be ephemeral, I think, by all who were there. (In mitigation, it was Martyn himself who released Live at Leeds on record. I didn't make him do it.) Martyn sounds much better on the CD than I remembered from the show or from the radio. His voice on I'd Rather Be The Devil studies so much evil all the time, and, like the devil himself, is full of passion and misdirected love. It tempts you past the banal misogyny of the Skip James lyric into the liquid music. The Echoplexed guitar evokes mermaids fucking, flashes of silver scales and flip of hip, breaching tails and ripple-banded caressing hands, rolling tumbling curves of slick bodies flowing together, slipstreaming, arcs of long platinum hair flinging sunlight-bright spray, fine droplets scattering strobed rainbows in foss-misted air. And that's just the first verse. And, although my well-known love of jazz double bass borders on irrational hatred, there's still something very lovely about Danny Thompson's sound in that band. He's seductive enough to make you forget for minutes at a time that you'd rather rip your own head off and eat it than listen to acoustic bass for a moment longer. Quite an achievement. The set was definitely worth the pound or so I paid to get in.

The Muselectric blogger suggests that Kossoff may be playing the solo on the unnaturally prolonged Outside In. I don't think so; I don't remember him being on stage that early on. More tellingly it doesn't sound like his technique, his guitar or his tone. The solo sounds like someone who has never played a rock guitar solo before, whereas Kossoff that night sounded more like someone who had mostly forgotten how to play a rock guitar solo. It's different, believe me. There's also too much fuzztone, too little sustain and no vibrato at all, and chords Kossoff plays as block chords are played as arpeggios.

The audience was a bit boisterous and I think I wasn't the only one waiting for Kossoff to come on. Before he finally appeared, Martyn said on-mic that he had had to bribe Kossoff to appear by giving him a bottle of Crème de Menthe. At the time, I thought Martyn was a common drunk giving a fragile junkie a bottle of liquor out of laddishness. I realize now that Martyn had probably spent the day dealing with a man he has since said would "bite your ankles" to get out from under your supervision to score. Crème de Menthe probably sounded like a reasonable compromise under the circumstances. Nowadays I'd also see Crème de Menthe-drinking as a sign that Kossoff was very ill; no-one can drink a whole bottle of something as sweetly sticky as Crème de Menthe – it must have about a pound of sugar per bottle – unless there's something wrong with their metabolism.

Anyway, for the encores, the band came back on and Kossoff appeared with his guitar and his bottle of vile mouthwash-flavored liquor. The crowd bayed a little. He looked like a lion; I bet I'm not the first to say that. He had that scowl he developed at that age, which I think was from substance abuse causing the muscles of his scalp to droop, not due to any particular outbreak of bad temper. In fact he smiled a lot, though it seemed a mirthless sort of smile. Of the music, I mostly remember being disappointed that nothing he played matched the magic I'd heard at the soundcheck.

He played on three or four songs, and three are on "Live at Leeds – and more". The first one on the CD (I don't remember the order live), I'm So Much In Love With You, is the worst. It's a slow blues, in the mold of "Since I've Been Loving You", and it starts with one of the guitarists quickly retuning his guitar as he plays, which initially sounds like a flub and expectations drop into in the basement like pigeon shit down a liftshaft. And indeed, Kossoff is sloppy here, easily eclipsing the sloppiest Jimmy Page outings ever. Martyn sings it as though he was singing Summertime; he has jazz down all right, but he doesn't really have the blues. I take that back; he can sing a little Delta, but the Chicago sound escapes him. The rhythm section sounds poleaxed, as though they've found themselves in a horrible nightmare where they have to back a Tuvan kargyraa star without any rehearsal.

One issue facing Kossoff was the extreme loudness of his playing. He can't hide any mistakes because the amps are turned up to 11, so the slightest touch of a finger on a string, or even a tap on the body of the guitar, sounds like one of Zeus's thunderbolts landing. There's a legend that only Kossoff could play Kossoff's guitar; that it refused to play for anyone else, producing only feedback. Listening to this, it's easy to believe it. It's clearly a difficult beast to tame. You only have to do something clumsy a couple of times at that volume to alert everyone. And he does.

The other two songs, 'Clutches' and 'Mailman', are played well enough that you can hear the old Kossoff. The songs aren't great, but it would be tough to single out Kossoff as the cause. The whole ensemble seems to lurch into an amateur blues mode and comes over like a poor Savoy Brown cover band. The band wasn't exactly funky previously, but in the encore they swing like a rusty WC chain. The drummer, who had displayed the diamond-hard, digitally-precise timekeeping of a sundial during the first part of the set, develops issues over tempo in the encores, and mislays the number of bars in a 12-bar blues at the end of Mailman. The band weren't offstage long enough to get as loaded as they all sound during the encore. Perhaps they figured if you can't beat 'im, join 'im. Perhaps folk-rock musicians developed the first transmissible drunk-virus and they'd caught a dose off their itinerant rock-star friend. Who knows?

Even off-form, playing with a pseudo-bar band, you can still hear the feel that made Paul Kossoff such a contender. It's not the technique, because he doesn't have a lot of that left here and it still sounds the same. It's an intangible, a drop of magic, a demonstration that he means it and isn't going through the motions. He really does give his soul. Who could do that every day and not become attenuated, worn through, parceled out? It's no wonder he didn't last long. It reminds me of Janis Joplin: "Have another little piece of my heart now; you know you got it if it makes you feel good." (And boy does that make me feel guilty.) Eventually it's all used up; there's nothing left to give and he had to go away.

If only he'd stayed sober that night, and played the way we all knew he could. Instead I heard the Canned-Heat-on-'luudes version and that was my live fix of Paul Kossoff. I'm glad I saw him the once, though if I had a time machine I'd certainly go back to an earlier time and pick up some even fonder memories.

My main regret is not trying to get inside at the sound check. I could have blagged my way inside. So why not? Because I was a typical teenager; poor impulse control, easily led by my peers and with an inability to think of the long term consequences of my actions. Accordingly, without a second thought I followed my cynical friend away from the hall and I have regretted it ever since.

Here's a tip for anybody who is still sixteen. If you're in a similar situation, go in and say hi. Offer to have his baby. You might never have the opportunity again. Take the plums. Eat the peach. In fact, have heaping helpings of all stoned fruit known to mankind, and may your god go with you.

[1] The link to Simon Waldman's site recalling the Uncut piece died, but luckily the Uncut piece appeared on the web in all its er, uncut glory.  It is quite a tale, too. (Blog edited 08/26/202)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Story of mine now online - "Alien" novelization

Simon Sellars, at the excellent Ballard-focused website Ballardian, has republished one of my pieces, "David Cronenberg's Alien: Novelization by J. G. Ballard". This originally appeared in Interzone in 1993. You can read it here, in the pastiche section.

Truth in advertising note: This is a story by me, Lyle Hopwood, written in a mash-up of Cronenberg's and Ballard's style. It isn't some sort of real-life lost film script. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Battlestar Galactica - Exodus

Cool to see that atmospheric maneuver from Adama in the Galactica. It looked "real". There were several moments that I had my heart in my mouth - wondering if that was it for the Galactica when Adama said, "It's been an honor." Grieving with Tigh.

We got the space battles all right. They reminded me of Batty's reminiscences in Blade Runner: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser gate." Well, now I believe you saw them, Roy.

And it's a good thing Starbuck didn't take my advice to strangle Kasey, fry her and feed her to Leoben, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

NaNoWriMo - write it yourself novel month

November is NaNoWriMo month. That's when people sign up to write a novel in one month. It's eminently doable; thousands of people do it every year. The results aren't always much good, but they are novels, and since they have 50,000 words in them they can be edited into shape without the angst of having to write and edit at the same time.

The editing is what tends to cripple writers. The inner editor gets to work on your first sentence and by the time that's polished up three months later you've lost interest in the other 89,980 words you have still to write. The NaNoWriMo people liken it to bicycling uphill with a rhino in a trailer behind you. Leave the rhino at home and get up the hill; with NaNoWriMo, you put more than half of the words you need down on paper and then stop to think.

But don't take my word for it. The NaNoWriMo website is at and it will give you all the details. How to sign up, how to contact others in the same boat, how to post your progress, how to get your novel counted as finished at the end of the month, and how to boast about it to all of your friends.

Getting a character out of the house

From Usenet, Oct. 18th 2006 (David Powell): For all the talk of nuclear weapons in Iran, if France goes Islamist in the next 20 years, the new government will not want for atomic capability, including submarines carrying ICBMs. Also, once again, a lot of the regular muslim people who want normal lives will be done the dirty by the new gov't too.

East Lancashire Blog: In Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital – a beautiful place, wide streets, lovely buildings, a bit like Paris - and also in the bustling forward looking city Lahore, I never saw any woman fully veiled. When I mentioned this, and asked how is it at home in Blackburn I see so many women in full burkas, but here in a truly Islamic country I don’t? Well, they said: “We as a country have moved on, but some of the religious leaders feel they have lost power, so have gone out to immigrant settlements in your country re-establishing themselves.”

This seems simple enough; I need a reason to move a major character in a story from her original home to a foreign one. I had her down as being expelled when the regime changed in her original country, like a White Mughal. But that just left her homeless and uprooted without adding anything to the plot. With something like the above, I have a plot driver ready-wound to toss into the book. Whether she's a Manchurian, a sleeper or an active infiltrator, I can decide later. I suspect I'll need her to be preoccupied with other stuff, so it'll probably decide itself.

Surrendering in song

I have a character for a story. He needs to give up control, and he mustn't be a wimp . . .

Yesterday, in the car, the MP3 player selected what must be the ultimate giving up and letting go song, one that celebrates surrender with an erotic intensity. No moping from this character – he's ready to embrace the moment and let it take him where it will. The song is Zoo Station; the line that gives me the charge is "I'm ready to let go of the steering wheel. I'm ready. Ready for what's next." The track is loud and driving, and Bono is giving away all autonomy, giving himself entirely over to fate. He sounds exhilarated. He hasn't given up; on the contrary, he's put fate in charge. That's what I wanted, a model for abdication as a positive act rather than an act of cowardice. He does sound ready; he's accepted everything it might bring. Letting go might bring fulfillment, more likely pain and disfigurement; he's ready. No more to say or do, now – he's ready. "It's alright", as he says.

Plus, the track is a real driver, no pun intended – it can take you anywhere, like the Zoo Station train itself. It has an unbelievably powerful drum beat and one of the best drum sounds I can remember hearing (what is that cowbell-sound like someone beating on a a slaughterhouse shackle-chain with a hammer?). It starts with a blazing attack of the most over-amplified guitar ever, rivaling the legendary Brian Gamage and the Spikes' first single. I love it when you can hear the guitarist's finger slip along the strings, and this track makes a banquet of what is usually a secret snack. Bono, without histrionics, sounds ready and I don't mean ready to do the dishes. There's no regret in his voice; his decision to let someone else take control comes over loud and clear.

When I first heard it, I thought about sex. I thought about what it means to give up control of your own body to another. I thought rather more about what it means to be the one who is handed that control, and how you feel at getting such a gift. A couple of examples came up later that didn't have so much of a sense of personal disclosure.

A week or so ago I was coming down with a cold. I said to a coworker, "I think I'm getting your cold. But there's nothing I can do about it."
He flashed a truly evil grin. "You can embrace it!" he said.
"Embrace a cold?"
"Sure. It's inevitable. It's gonna happen. Take it all. It's like when you're at the top of a roller-coaster and you know you're going all the way down. Throw your hands in the air and scream. Embrace it!"

Many years ago, I was talking to a friend who was describing his favorite way of taking speed. He'd put the white powder into a cigarette paper, screw the top to make a little twist out of it, and swallow it.
"But you don't know anything about it," I said. "You can't know what it is, how strong it is, how much it's going to affect you – and now it's too late because you've swallowed it and there's no way to back out!"
"I know," he said. "Isn't it great?"

I am certainly not this character but it's a joy to hear role models for him. Now I need one for another character with a similar flaw, but much darker.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Someone asked me what all the references to Torchwood meant in the new Doctor Who series. I said I didn't know but it was an anagram of Doctor Who.

He said, "It can't be an anagram of DR WHO because there's COTO left over."

Adventures in body modification, part II

Alas, the dentist didn't go for the hot glue solution, so I have to wear retainers or face the consequences. They could come in handy if I have an unexpected boxing match.

Myteeth look much better for the orthodontistry, though I hadn't realized quite how the lower front teeth would move. (They moved like a curved sword being drawn from a scabbard; the tops of the teeth moved but the lower portion had no apparent movement relative to the jaw). So now I am staring at everyone's teeth to see if they look like that too.

Next: Implanted mirroshades or something cool like that.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Keep going about the Google thing.

Why don't I like Google?

Because they seem to be giving the impression they not only own the whole internet, but also (and more teeth-grindingly irritating to me) give the distinctly incorrect impression that they own Usenet.

Putting a cover sheet on War And Peace with your name on it isn't exactly lying that you wrote it . . . it's just a cover sheet, isn't it? It's the same inside as it always was. Making Google's search engine a cover sheet for the entire internet was equally harmless. Except that for millions of people who have never seen any other cover sheet as they open their browser, it really gives the impression that Google wrote the book, not just the index. It gets my goat.

Usenet has an even longer tradition. It's not part of the internet, though I'm not going to bore you with its history. (You can of course . . . ha ha ha . . . look up its history using Google's fine search tool.) Usually one accesses Usenet with a newsreader. You read other people's posts from a window that displays them in a hierarchy, and you send posts to Usenet groups via the newsreading software in a manner just like email. There are tens of thousands of text-only groups and thousands of binary groups with rips, pictures and of course vast quantities of porn and spam.

Google decided to make Usenet accessible through the internet, and put a newsreader-type interface on its front page, called "Google Groups". It was a poor newsreader, not compliant with the standards of Usenet, which meant that people accessing Usenet through Google were forever making mistakes in presentation and quoting style. Since Google did not automatically point new people to the news.announce.newusers group, people did not know basic posting etiquette, or even that there was such a thing. It caused quite a bit of bad feeling.

And – notice – "Google Groups"? As though the groups belonged to Google. Arg.

But that's not the worst thing Google did.

Usenet posts are by nature transient. You are having a conversation with many, perhaps hundreds, of people, and the conversations are "threaded" which is to say that the message you reply to appears above yours, and replies to your posts go below in a format that is fairly easily understandable. Or at least understandable when you use a proper newsreader and your posts are being answered the same day you send them. Most Usenet posts are like coffee-break conversation, in writing. Someone says something, you react to it, the subject changes, you react to that and then break is over. Sometimes the next day, if you recall the remark at all, you might think, "Did I say that? That's not what I really think!" But it was in response to a specific comment by someone else, not a Manifesto, and anyway, everyone's already forgotten the conversation.

On Usenet, if you said something profound, or if the conversation dug up some meaningful info, the group would often produce a FAQ, or an FAQ as they call it over here, a Frequently Asked Questions file. Someone would take charge of re-posting it regularly to keep the meaningful comments in circulation. The ephemeral conversations swam in circles beside the FAQs, like penguins around ice-floes.

But many years ago, someone decided that it would be fun to archive every single post to Usenet, just because they could. That archive was called DejaNews. Most people never heard of it and it was just a vague shadowy James Bond villain in the background of Usenet life. Then Google bought DejaNews. Then Google put a web interface on Usenet and called it Google Groups.

The result is that posts that people thought were transient coffee-break conversation pieces in 1993 (or any other subsequent years) are now available again through Google Groups. The threading is broken, or at least incomplete, and so it's difficult to reconstruct who the hell the person was replying to, but the remark is still there.

I got smart and started using pseudonyms once I learned about DejaNews, but I just looked and I found a couple of incomprehensible posts with my name on them that I can't remember writing from '93 and '94. I've never owned any antirrhinums or any Kenwood equipment, so they may not be me, but anyway I can safely say:

1. If I did post them, I've changed my mind
2. I was drunk, your honor
3. The guy up-thread egged me on and I was just lying to wind him up

I find this searchability sinister. I didn't know I was being recorded. Most people on Usenet didn't. Seeing posts you probably didn't intend to be your last word on the subject, written 13 years ago, available for people to reply to today, is a misapplication of Usenet. I would prefer it to go away, so I could have a non-anonymous conversation in peace with my friends again.

But it won't, so I'm just going to seethe at Google instead.

Marginally useful note: If you don't want to have to defend to the death, in 30 years time, some intolerant remark you made out of frustration because some poster was annoying you one night, look into the X-No-Archive: Yes header. In theory, this tells honest companies not to archive your Usenet post. Dishonest companies, the sort who might sell your posts to a private detective, or to your boss, or to your health insurance company, mind you, may or may not honor it. At least it'll keep casuals from looking you up.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

YouTube, again already

Oh, noes! Google is buying YouTube.

I suspect that DRM will be brought in and YouTube as I knew it will become a thing of the past. If you have favorites at YouTube and you suspect they will be made to go away due to copyright issues, it would be wrong of me to suggest that you download them to your hard disk to keep them and download a player to watch them. So don't go to and do that, ok?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Adventures in Audio Editing

I came across a couple of interesting pages recently, both of which rely on a close analysis of audio files. They are very different and very heroic in different ways. One is a study of Armstrong's first words on the moon. The other is a study of every, and I mean every, audio edit Jimmy Page made in constructing the sound files for "live" Led Zeppelin videos.

Peter Shann Ford's analysis of Armstrong's words is here. (Be warned - it's graphics-intensive and takes a while to load. ) He concludes that Armstrong did say, "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," and the sleuthing he had to do track down that first inaudible "a" is fascinating.

Eddie Edwards' The Garden Tapes is a website dedicated to deconstructing the final audio files for Led Zeppelin DVDs and working out where each part came from in the original concerts. The original concerts ran over several nights and rather than taking the best example of each song from the several examples available, Page takes the best example of each word and each note from the several available to him. Unlike Shann Ford, Edwards doesn't show his working, but it's a heck of an achievement.

Eddie Edwards on The Song Remains The Same's Black Dog: "This riff is from the 29th, as is almost all of "Black Dog". This is an incomplete version, of course, with a substantial section cut from the middle of the song. After the "ah-ah" call and response, as we expect the "Hey baby, oh baby, pretty baby" section, we are instead taken straight to the guitar solo that closes the piece. This gives a rather unbalanced feel to the song, although the brilliance of the guitar work and the spectacularly exciting stage act soon make us forget that. Still on the 29th, then, until near the very end of the song. After the return to the riff and the "beginning of the ending", there are two big chords (C and D) - these, and the last 15 seconds of mayhem, are from the 27th." He continues: "Now on to the album. This is a bit more complicated."

Peter Shann Ford on "Electronic Evidence and Physiological Reasoning Identifying the Elusive Vowel "a" in Neil Armstrong’s Statement on First Stepping onto the Lunar Surface.": "[A] comparison with the phrase "for a man" shows the clear presence of an additional sound wave between "for" and "man" in the phrase "for a man" and the absence of any such sound wave between "for" and "mankind"."

When Pagey used to say that he was "still mixing" tapes for the DVDs I thought he meant he was spending a lot of time getting the sound balance right. Silly me. I was so 20th Century. Now I know better.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Battlestar Galactica's Back!

And it's getting a 94% rating on Metacritic.

There was a lot to like about the opening episode but I also found a certain amount to whine about also. Which one shall I write about? Wait, I know!

First off, where's my big-ass explosions? 40,000 of the remaining humans are planetside in tents, and only approximately 5 people and their pet rock remain on a Battlestar, so space battles were thin on the ground. So to speak.

Secondly, I did think that the episode had a lot of metaphorical people with megaphones wandering around the set pointing out the Real Life Parallels You Should Pay Attention To. One was noisily explaining that suicide bombers are people Just Like Us who see no other way forward. Another was following the occupying power's representatives around pointing at things like detainees and prisoner beatings and yelling about how the people being occupied don't always appreciate the favor they're being given. One was loudly revealing that one side's terrorist is the other side's insurgent. Well, as Han Solo once said, I'm glad we have you here to tell us these things, professor. The director used every technique except Word's marching ants to highlight them. (However, a witness for another point of view, the San Jose Mercury, said, "The references slide in with considerable subtlety, with the show's writers making the startling assumption that their audience will 'get it.'" Oh. OK.)

Cavils (haha) aside, this was a stirring season opener. It set up new conflicts that I really want to see unfold, and it continues asking the big questions about the meaning of being human, family relationships, reproduction and religion. I'll be tuning in for the rest of the season.

BTW: If I were Kara, I'd kill that little thing Leoben brought her. It's obviously not her child (wrong age) and seems suspiciously pre-programmed for that hurt/comfort bonding scenario it just put them through. Sounds like a Cylon to me. Given Kara's previous history I'm surprised she didn't feed it down the garbage disposal as soon as Leoben left the room. And, since she's so clever, why doesn't she just pith Leoban instead of killing him? If he dies he resurrects within hours. If she scrambles his spinal cord at the neck she can keep him alive for a week. That should be long enough to escape.

The scoop's all here (Probably. It requires Flash to open and I don't do that, so it's anybody's guess. It used to be a pretty good site, with lots of information. It might be worth it.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Important Newsflash: Written Word Now Available Online

If someone gives me 20 pages of anything to read - pretty much anything in English, whatever the subject, I can skim it in less than two minutes and decide whether I want to read it. If I do decide to read it, I already know where the major points are and can pay special attention to them. If I make a mistake and read a part too fast I can flick back to the unclear section as soon as I know I need it, in just a fraction of a second, re-read it and then find my previous place. It's not quite that easy on a screen, but there's usually a "find" tool that will get me back to it in a couple of keystrokes.

It's a great system. It's one of the major strengths of the written word. The modern world is built on this feature of text. I know I'm not the only one who reads like this.

Recorded speech doesn't work that way. It takes as long to listen to it as it took to say, and if you lose your place you have to think fairly hard to get back to the point where you lost track. In many cases, you just can't. It's gone forever. (I can't tell you how often I've reached out to my car radio to hit the "replay the last 30 seconds again" button only to find there isn't one - It is only available on my PVR.)

So why is so much of what's Out There (on the Interwebs) in Podcast-like form these days? Someone recommended September 26th's Uplifting Thoughts on this Blog, TED (Technology Entertainment Design). I clicked there and it's a 20 minute interview with some guy. Do I have 20 minutes? No. Will I remember to click it again when I'm doing the washing or showering the lizards? Hardly. Can I load it into some form of zippy iPoddy thing to listen to in the car? Probably, if I had one and if I had ten minutes to do all the stuff to get the interview in there.

Although I'm sure some would argue that a Nactual Recording Of The VIP's Voice has extra archive/historical value, I suspect people use recorded material on the web just because they can nowadays, and also because they don't have the time to transcribe it into written form to make it accessible to people like me.

Just for me, then, can I recommend people to use transcription software to post a simultaneous text file of the interview? It probably won't be a very good transcription, but I'm used to reading uncorrected OCR errors and they don't slow me down. If I got to a stage where I wanted clarification, it would mean I was hooked. If I were hooked I'd listen to the whole interview.

And you could put paying banner ads above the text! <---Incentive!

It's just occurred to me I could have had it playing in the background while I wrote this rant. Too late now. My suggestion still stands.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dancing Teeth

If you're not American, you might not know that many Americans sleep every night with one or two big chunks of plastic wedged in their mouths.

I certainly didn't know. A few months ago, I decided to hell with my British teeth, have them straightened. So I wore braces for six months. After the teeth were all nicely lined up and gleaming (I felt like Monty Python's Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth while this was happening), the braces were ready to come off.

"So," said the orthodontist, "now we fit your retainers."

"Retainers?" I gasped, thinking of Old Scrotum, wrinkled retainer of Rawlinson End.

Retainers turn out to be pieces of plastic molded around your teeth. Sticking the mold back onto your teeth encourages them to stay in the same alignment as the day they were molded. I'd never heard of this. Perhaps small American children learn about them the same time they learn of the tooth fairy, but to me it was new. I assumed that moving the teeth and letting the bone reform behind them was permanent. It's not. If you don't wear the retainers, the teeth all skulk briskly back whence they came and you are out several thousand dollars. (Plus all the emotional investment you put into wearing metal cages over your teeth for years.)

The net result is that most people who have worn braces wear retainers, usually for 24 hours a day the first few months and then only at night for the next umpteen years. I checked with a sampling of adult people I know (e.g. my dental hygienist) and they all admitted, yep, I still wear retainers at night. (Sample size: N=5) So next time you imagine an American starlet abed in her Victoria's Secret nightie, remember to imagine additionally that she is wearing a gumshield like Mike Tyson as she sweetly dreams.

I'm not settling for it, so I'm going to suggest an alternative to my orthodontist – hot glue. You might say I'm not an expert, but I've had teeth for almost five decades (though not always the same teeth), so I know something about them. He can hot glue them into position and I can sleep unencumbered by something resembling a pro-football mouth guard. And I'm not going to ask anybody else if they wear retainers because I don't think I want to know about it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Music to Watch

YouTube has revolutionized the way I waste time. I can find the rarest video clips after minimal searching.

For instance, is your life incomplete without seeing the video of The Pretty Things (and their goat) singing Come See Me? It's here. The rare "full make up version" of The Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash is there too.

Not only do you get videos, but the viewers' comments are a joy to read. Some go for MST3K material and others are informative. One, writing about JJF, above, says "you can hear 2 electric guitars, a fat humbucker sound that must be Keef's Gibson and a thin, bright Fender Telecaster that must be Brian… " All this and educational too.

YouTube can be hard to navigate. Searching a video site for an ambiguous term like "Pretty Things" could pull up some strange results. The trick I use is to find a user who is interested in the same things I am and subscribe to his/her videos. Searching within that list will pull up other things I'm interested in, and once I've clicked on one, a list of related videos displays to the right of the one I'm watching. If you click on the Pretty Things link above, it currently pulls up six more Pretty Things videos. You can also find users of like mind by choosing a comment and clicking on the commenter's name. He or she may be an uploader or have promising favorites to look at.

This is where the Time Sink aspect of YouTube comes in. Every vid you watch gives another list – up to thousands – of related links. Videos, despite much improved technology, still run in real-time. If it's a five minute song, it takes five minutes to watch. If you watch twelve (and it's hardly possible to watch fewer in a sitting, in my opinion), there goes an hour.

Once you've found them, to prevent them escaping again, click on "save to favorites" and that puts them in your account. You can put together playlists that will play in a programmed sequence. (Despite the name, this doesn't save the video to your hard disk. You need to have a fast internet connection whenever you're using YouTube.)

YouTube is at

PS – I am not an employee of YouTube and they didn't pay me to say any of this.


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