Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Two I's coffee bar

Before the Beatles, the London music scene depended on its Tin Pan Alley stable of pretty boys. Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Tommy Steele...and many others, including Sir Cliff Richard.

2is coffee bar

Cliff and the boys were associated with the 2is Coffee Bar in Old Compton Street, Soho, and the nearby Moka Coffee Bar in Frith Street, just a short distance from the music publishers, music shops and studios of London's Tin Pan Alley. The link above is to wonderful article by Nickel in the Machine on this bubbling scene.

"In 1953 the Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida opened the Moka coffee bar at 29 Frith Street in Soho which provided London with its first Gaggia expresso coffee machine. […] Soon other coffee bars sprung up around Soho, often providing live music, and these included the Top Ten in Berwick Street plus Heaven and Hell and the Two I's next door to each other at 57 and 59 Old Compton Street respectively. Almost over night young people, who now for the first time were starting to be known as 'teen-agers' had somewhere to go they could call their own."

Starting in 1955 and taking off with the advent of skiffle, the 2is was at its height in 1958 to 1960. You know skiffle, right? Here's Jimmy Page playing skiffle in 1957.

The scene was pretty much wiped out by the Beatles and the Stones in the early sixties. Cliff was one of the few survivors, and to everyone's surprise he kept on going, and going, and going. He continues to be one of the favorites wheeled out for Royal Do's to this day, and I'm personally astonished it wasn't Cliff who was chosen for the London Olympics teaser bus last week.

He never did crack the States. The reason for that is simple. His was the old model, the hip-swivelling flouncy-quiffed singer. His band, the Shadows, was similar to the Ventures, the old model of a beat combo. The Beatles and the Stones cleaned up in the States, overturning that paradigm forever. The States no longer had time for pretty English boys past their first blush of youth, particularly one modeled on Elvis, who in 1958 had been inducted into the army and had come back a changed man himself.

By the way, if you look at a map of Soho and locate Frith Street and Old Compton Street where all these British chart toppers sprang from, a few hundred yards away to the north is Denmark Street, where the Rolling Stones first album was recorded. And just south of Old Compton Street is Gerrard Street.

You'll often see that name in Led Zeppelin lore. Books and articles call it the place where Led Zeppelin held their first rehearsal, and they always say it was a dive in Chinatown. It is in Chinatown now – there's a picture of it as the Kowloon restaurant in this blog's write up of the spot.

Kowloon Led Zeppelin first rehearsal

Map of Soho

© Google

But as you can see when you look at the map, it's actually part of London's music area, Soho, just a few hundred yards from the 2is and the major studios. I don't know why everyone feels the need to emphasize it's in Chinatown.

Perhaps it's more exotic, more rags to riches, and most of all, perhaps it is because it downgrades the old myth, the one about how the experienced-muso-Page-was-predatory-on-inexperienced-Midland-hicks.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Way We Were

This is the first song I remember dancing to at the local club.

Toots and the Maytals, 54-46 Was My Number.

Possibly a bit of a surprise to those who were expecting me to remember a more rockist history. I came from a skinhead town. Ska and Bluebeat were teh shit when I was a pre-teen. This is the first single I paid for with my own money.

Don't tell me you don't remember that one. Dave and Ansell Collins, Double Barrel.

Mind you, memory is a poor ephemeral thing. Each time you access a memory the original is destroyed and overwritten by your memory of the memory. Here is an article that starts out discussing Photoshop and the creation of false impressions by photographic fakery: Photography as a weapon, by the NY Times.

It's interesting that there is no foolproof way to detect a faked photograph, except in the case that you're given the original and you can compare it. (Aha, said the reporter to the expert, in that case how would you know the original was not itself doctored? The expert was flummoxed. Methinks the reporter must be the Ghost of Philip K Dick.)

Says the writer: There’s a remarkable story about the forging of the Hitler diaries. The forger was so prolific, he created so many forgeries — letters, watercolors, diaries, etc. — that handwriting analysts (charged with the task of authenticating the diaries) took writing examples done by the forger thinking they were genuine examples of Hitler’s handwriting and compared them to the diaries. They authenticated the diaries on that basis. Often we make a comparison between something that we believe is real and something that we believe is fake.

After a while the article goes on to the creation of false impressions by any sort of photography, particularly photos that are supplied with captions, and then into some musings on memory.

More from the writer: "Years ago, I was watching “Six O’Clock News,” a documentary film by Ross McElwee. In the movie, there is a scene of a television crew shooting ‘Baywatch’ from the Santa Monica pier. A year later I was standing on the Santa Monica Pier telling a producer, “The last time I was here I watched a television crew shooting ‘Baywatch.’” The producer said, “No, you weren’t. You were watching Ross McElwee’s film ‘Six O’Clock News.’ ” Of course, the producer was correct. I was confused. I had confabulated the experience of seeing something in a movie with real life."

But I think I remember 1970, and that club in my home town, and the suedeheads with their Crombies and DMs. I think so.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Scottish Ghost Story

I have a Highland ghost story.

When I was a young teenager, my best friend made an arrangement for us to go to to a guesthouse near Fort William for a holiday. I never asked why or how she knew the hosts, but I guess my parents and her parents checked and approved, because we set off on the train and arrived at the station, to be picked up by the man of the house and driven about sixty five thousand miles up a glen. I can’t remember which one, but it’s the famous one with the parallel lines way up high on the hillsides, scoring straight down the valley where the glacial lake lapped at the rock and steadily rose as the glacier pushed the water higher into the hills.

So we got there – approximately 2 astronomical units from the nearest other house, with the expectation that two weeks of hiking would do our young budding bodies good, or something.

Our host was a ghillie. His regular job was to help the English hunters catch deer. On one of our trips out into the torrential rain, he explained that he knew all the deer more or less personally, so he pointed out the sick and old and bad-tempered ones to the hunters and used their guns as a way to keep the herd healthy. And I’m glad he explained it that way because the weird thing is, he and his wife were vegan. Not even vegetarian, but vegan. So for two weeks we lived in the Scottish equivalent of Bron-yr-Aur, hemmed in by fantastic mists like something from MacBeth and eating nut milk, soy butter, protein from plants I’ve never heard of and generally getting an education in the ways of the world.

Also getting glommed on to by a tick. First and last time for that, luckily.

After a few days, afraid my skin was going to slough off as if from a drowned corpse due to all the healthy rain (and the mist, which was at least as wet as the rain), I started staying in. And this guy had the most amazing collection of books I have ever read. They weren’t occult books, per se, but counterculture/alternative books where he had, I assume, started with veganism and gone on to the fringes of the lifestyle in his reading. So I read about Tantrism and Buddhism and a dozen other things, along with a firm grounding in J I Rodale’s food philosophies that broadened my mind as much, or more, than anything else I’ve ever done. He also had a nylon-string guitar and a banjo, and I have to say that the banjo expanded my consciousness significantly as well. I'd never considered the possibility of an instrument with a moveable bridge. Fascinating.

It was tough not even having milk. After a week we escaped, squelched down the glen and thumbed a lift from someone to Ft William where we devoured a Chinese Meal with as much meat in it as we could afford and then, refreshed, hitched back up to Vegan Land.

At some point we were driven (or perhaps took the train) along the whole length of Loch Ness to Inverness. Foyers is on the opposite side of the loch to the main road, but I spent the entire journey staring across the loch looking for Boleskine House. My friend assumed I was looking for the Loch Ness Monster. I didn’t see it. Houses didn’t come with great big red Google Map balloons pointing to them in those days. I didn’t see Nessie either. But Loch Ness looked like the sort of place where misty monsters could manifest.

One night in the guest house, it was dark – and I mean dark – outside and there was one dim lamp on in the reading room. Everyone else was in bed, presumably using the sheets as a sort of wick to dry themselves out. I was avidly consuming some mysterious cult book about Kundalini, Kasha, or vitamin K when the guitar, standing on a shelf behind me, suddenly sang out.

I did not just hear that.

I went on reading. The guitar sounded again, a sweet, quiet G. I looked at it and tried to get my hair to flatten back down on my scalp. It did it again. I put the book down, deciding that I was just going to have to acknowledge it, and stepped cautiously up to the guitar. As I did so, a housefly that had been sitting on the G string took off, plucking it with its sticky feet as it did so, a quiet, plangent twang.

Not a supernatural call to adventure at all then. Just a fly. Although they do call Beelzebub Lord of the Flies, don’t they?

Later, the ghillie took us out to his deer and I saw a magnificent buck, a Monarch of the Glen. He was beautiful.

And that’s my Scottish ghost story.

If you want to learn more about Scotland, why not subscribe to the William McGonagall poem server? It will email you a poetic gem by the unmatched Scottish bard McGonagall on the day(s) of the week of your own choosing. I've been subscribed for years and McGonagall's poems never fail to surprise me.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jimmy Page and Leona Lewis at the Olympics.




Pre-performance Jimmy Page interview, in which he says his sport at school was hurdling. Who'da thunk? Those long legs, I guess.

Here is a link to the official CBC or NBS or whoever they are video of Whole Lotta Love. They've asserted copyright, so YouTube links will break. To go to their website, click on the Flame In My Heart Can't Get My Fill pic below:

This is a video link: click it!

OK Mag's photos of the ceremony, high quality

My screencaps, not so high quality








Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lotus Elan

I'm all excited about Jimmy Page being in the handover for the Olympics at the Closing Ceremony tomorrow. The chance of any British extravaganza not sucking has to be about 0.01%, and the chance of Jimmy Page being able to face a crowd of 32 million sober has to be fairly low (although getting higher every day), but the tiny chance it's going to be wonderful has me feeling all teenage and jittery.

I'm pretty sure that the organizers for the London Olympics had no clue that Whole Lotta Love was a Zeppelin tune. I think the meeting went like this:

O1: What screams London to the world?
O2: Ehhhh....Pearly Queens, London Buses, Boris Johnson, aaahhhh, Top of the Pops? Eel Pie with Green Liquor, X-Factor, the Kray Brothers...
O1: Top of the Pops?
O2: That riff...y'know, da DA da DA dah!
O2: Brilliant. We'll do it. Wasn't that Led Zeppelin?

And of course it wasn't. The riff used to introduce TOTP from 1971 to 1977 was played by session musicians, based on the CCS cover version, and that is the one drilled into Britons like Jerusalem the generation before.

There was a brief return of it in 1980, and then a new remix of Whole Lotta Love was produced by a different band in 1998. I can't say I've ever heard it. It served as a booster shot for the inoculation, though.

I bet that's what the organizers thought they had bought, until some Freemason at the Beeb mentioned it to Jimmy at their club and learned the background.

Quoted in Sporting Life, Jimmy says he was overwhelmed to have been asked to use his song for the handover ceremony.

He said: "Initially they requested to use 'Whole Lotta Love', then it was 'you can play guitar on it if you want to'. Then it was said Leona was going to sing on it, and it just got a momentum of it's own. It's going to be really great.

"The Olympics is going to bring a whole spirit of optimism to London and it's going to be fantastic."

That seems to line up with my theory.

The Grauniad yesterday described the ceremony in more detail. The official handover always begins with the flag being handed to the president of the International Olympic Committee, who in this case will pass it to Boris Johnson (for it is he), the Mayor of London. The flag has to be waved six times. After that there will be a lot of business with a London bus - the famous double decker that Londoners don't actually use any more. After that, according to the Guardian:

As the people in the queue dance beneath their brollies, the bus will begin a transformation, its roof opening like a lotus flower to reveal a stage. Leona Lewis will emerge on a platform to perform an R&B aria. Meanwhile, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page will appear at the other end of the bus and strike out the opening chords of Whole Lotta Love. In order to meet the eight-minute limit the song has been curtailed, but to Page's delight now cuts straight to the solo.

As the duet climaxes, Beckham rises up on a third platform clutching the football flanked by a cellist and violinist in Team GB kit, and kicks the ball into the athletes packed in the centre field of the stadium. The bus departs, transformed into an ersatz carnival float.

Stephen Powell, the creative director, said the intention was to create a quintessentially British moment.

Unfortunately, to me, the quintessential British moment, is the one when something goes wrong - the pod not opening in Spinal Tap, or the mad scientist unable to find the right plug for his time transducer in Help!

Hopefully, Becks and Pagey and co. will prove me wrong.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Anything Goes


In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything

We were talking about bad words, weren't we?

Here's a funny clip from 1967. The Rolling Stones came on the Ed Sullivan show to play their hit, "Let's Spend the Night Together". Sullivan found the chorus 'objectionable', and told the Stones to sing "Let's Spend Some Time Together" instead.

Yes, they sang the expurgated version, with grimaces and rolling eyes.

That was 41 years ago. Since then we've completed, or at least trolled along the pathway of, the Sexual Revolution. Nowadays, songs aren't censored. They just have parental advisory stickers.
The Olympic Closing ceremony on Sunday will feature a duet by Jimmy Page and Leona Lewis. They will be playing "Whole Lotta Love", chosen because its riff is instantly recognizable all over the world - and particularly in Britain, where it was the siren call of Top of the Pops for seven years.

Today the Daily Torygraph reports that Whole Lotta Love (b. 1969) is 'too racy' for the Olympics.

But, according to London 2012 officials, Lewis - who grew up in east London close to the Olympic site - requested a change to the song's second verse because she was worried they would not make sense for a female singer.

In the original, recorded in 1969, frontman Robert Plant sings, "I'm gonna give you every inch of my love".

But in the version that will be sung tomorrow, however, Lewis changes the words to "every bit" of my love.

The band also agreed to a request from organisers to drop the third verse, which includes similar sexual innuendoes, to fit in to the eight-minute performance.

The title of that Telegraph piece is Led Zeppelin classic 'too racy' for Olympics: It has been delighting fans for almost 40 years but Led Zeppelin's rock classic "Whole Lotta Love" has been deemed too racy by Olympics organisers.

I read the article all the way through. Nowhere is there a quote that says the song is 'too racy'. No other news source says 'too racy'.

The request to change the lyric came from Leona Lewis, 23, who seemed to think the lyric was anatomically impossible, when sung by a woman, not too racy. The organizers apparently only wanted to cut the length. (Ouch!) It seems that the single quote marks around 'too racy' in the headline means "We're a tabloid! We make this stuff up!" rather than y'know, signifying an actual quote.

But the dependably offendable Daily Telegraph says it's too racy. Score another one for rock'n'roll. The song is 39 years old and still scares the DT. (Pats DT reassuringly on head.)

One thing I love about rock 'n' roll is it still freaks the wrinklies out.

Overcoming Lars Porsena

Lars Porsena of Clusium
By the nine gods he swore

Talking of censorship, it's amusing to see one of my favorite blogs, Making Light, wading into the swamp of 'decency'. It seems so not their thing. Not that they are indecent, mind.

In The honor of your assistance is requested in a small matter of language their contributor, Abi, has been asked to provide a list of Bad Words that you should not be able to use to tag/describe a book in a database, because the word is 'offensive'. She asked the Making Light regulars to help her.

This is a task that doesn't have an answer, but if you're still required to do it, the best thing to do would be to buy an off-the-shelf nanny program. But she didn't, so if you read the blog post and the comments, you can read many, many people struggling with many, many rude words. Some of them you really wouldn't want your book tagged with. Some are just silly. (Warning: naughty words at the link.)

I'm not going to comment there, as people have already said what I would have said (above). The arguments are not about whether someone should be able to tag items with rude words - the default assumption seems to be that offensive terms are at best unhelpful, and I agree with that. The arguments are about what constitutes a rude word in the first place.

I work in a medical field. The first thing I learned about networked computers is that they couldn't tell the difference between someone looking up "breast" because he was a bored heterosexual man, and a woman looking up "breast cancer" because she was very, very afraid and lonely and needed help with her diagnosis as soon as possible before she broke down and lost it. Aha, you might say, leave 'breast' in, and disallow 'ginormous knockers'. Yes - good point. But the number of synonyms for 'ginormous knockers' - huge bazooms etc. - is very large, and the scalpel needed to excise the medical/artistic uses of 'breast' from the bored-heterosexual-men uses of 'breast' is very fine indeed.

I won't go on, as the 177 comments so far on the original post cover this territory and more. Just a few comments - I was absolutely alarmed at one of the commenter's claims that he'd used a public library that hadn't let him research Ancient Persia adequately because it blocked the word 'Aryan'. What was the programmer thinking? Don't tell me, I know what they were thinking, but why they thought it was either their mandate to do so or that they could do it correctly, I really don't know.

My motto is Humani Nihil A Me Alienum Puto. I tried to enter this into Google from work one day and got reported to Human Resources. Apparently, 'puto' is a rude word to someone. Perhaps, but it's a common non-rude word in Latin.

I was also taken by the Brit in the comments at Making Light who wanted the well known rude words 'scrubber' and 'slag' banned. That would cut out a couple of useful terms for tagging industrial processes. There was a special plea from at least one gay guy not to have 'gay' on the list of banned words. Yes, you can call someone 'gay' and be insulting, but sometimes people really are gay, and like it that way.

There is also discussion of the famous Scunthorpe, a town in England that does not appear on a lot of searches to its detriment, and Penistone, a town near where I was born.

My advice? Just give it up.


Nibbled to death by ducks

Random House has to be the world's most craven publisher.

Today, it was in the news for pulling a book to censor it. In Once upon a time, a book for children had a very naughty word in it.... The Scotsman reports:

The author Jacqueline Wilson has come under criticism for using the insult t*** in her book My Sister Jodie, which has sold more than 150,000 copies.

Ach! Not the dreaded insult t***! How dare she! Luckily Random House was on the ball, and is reissuing the books with one letter changed. (The offending word now reads t***.)

The author of the article spoke to the voice of sanity, who said that t*** might be pretty d*rn offensive, but everything else was much worse, and we're going to heck in a handbasket and we're all gonna die. And stuff:

She pointed to the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, which has been criticised for exposing children to violence. She said: "It should be a 15 rating at the least. It is cruel, sadistic and paints a bleak world view. And yet any child of any age can go if their parents take them, and parents assume if it's a 12A it must be OK."

Bloody films. It's all their fault.

A couple of days ago, our hero Random house was in the news for scrapping a book entirely. In Writers accuse Random House of censorship, explains that:

The Jewel Of Medina by US journalist Sherry Jones tells the story of Aisha, Mohammed's favourite wife, who was promised to him when she was just six years old. They married when she was nine and he was 52.

Random House decided to pull the book after advice that it "might be offensive" to some Muslims, and "could incite acts of violence by a small radical segment".

"We stand firmly by our responsibility to support our authors and the free discussion of ideas, even those that may be construed as offensive by some.[...] In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else [...]

So they thought being offensive might be okay, but getting in the firing line wasn't such a good idea. In other words, yes, the terrorists did win.

But most irritating of all, Random House wants to keep its authors in line. In early August, one of the Guardian's blogs reported:

Apparently, a well-established, enormous publishing house has decided to insert the following clause into its standard contract for children's books: "If you act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication / Renegotiate advance / Terminate the agreement."

The publisher's name? [...]
Random House.

The writer, Sian Pattenden, pours cold water on the idea and notes in passing that given the way our famous people are lauded for bad behavior, a better cap to that clause might be:

..and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously increased, we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Rush publication / Up the advance / Ring Richard and Judy immediately."

Quite right.

This is fussy and nannyish and irritating. Businesses can do what they want, unfortunately. As long as it doesn’t go against a protected freedom, like religion or sexual orientation, they can tell their authors how to behave. But there are two problems that I see with this stupid contract. First, they won’t get famous, interesting authors, and second, it's not going to stand up in a court of law.

No established author is going to put their name to a dumb, vaguely-worded paragraph that orders them to be upright citizens. Who is going to decide if someone has acted or behaved in a way that damages their reputation? More substantially, how are they going to enforce the contract? Now, Random House could have said they have a right to drop a contract if the writer is convicted of whatever a felony is called in England. (I have forgotten.) Bringing the work into disrepute does cost the publisher sales, and being convicted of a crime could plausibly do that. Someone in the comments to that piece brings up child molestation as a reputation damaging move. True – I'd agree with that, but child molestation is already a crime, not a personal foible.

But Random House chose not to be specific. It wants to control 'acts and behaviors". Such as? It doesn't state. If it's Associating With Bad People or Drinking Too Much, then they are in speculative realms - and trouble. If Random House tries to drop a contract on that basis, then the author is likely to sue, for defamation of character and subsequent loss of earnings (which in this case they can actually prove, since the contract has a monetary value).

And Random House can't win. Their contract states that you can’t behave in a way such that “consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished”. That means to drop you for breach of contract they have to prove 1) That the value is diminished 2) That it is ‘seriously’ diminished (whatever that means – I don’t think a lawyer drafted this) and 3) That the market diminished ‘consequently’ (because of) your drinking spree or 18-year-old-Spanish-pool-boy-adultery incident.

This isn’t even a case of “OMG won’t somebody think of the children!” Someone points out in the comments that children used to have to behave for adults, now adults have to behave for the children. In fact, Random House isn't trying that line. It specifically mentions market and value – it has to, in fact, as English law recognizes monetary loss, not non-specific ‘damage’ to individuals.

Most authors will probably just cross the paragraph out and initial the correction. I would.

Still, the world does in some ways seem to be going back to the thirties. Allowing business any control over your private life seems topsy-turvy to me. I’m subject to random drug tests here, which pisses me the hell off. If I don’t turn in good work, or if I’m convicted of a drug crime, fair enough. But random testing is an invasion of privacy. This shit started, I guess, when someone said, “Oh my god we don’t know what PILOTS are doing and our life is in their hands! Test them!” and everybody agreed. Then the shit rolled down the slippery slope until the it swelled into a chorus of “We also don’t know what BURGER FLIPPERS are doing and our patties are in their inadequately gloved hands!”

By then, like frogs in a pot of cool water on the stove, unable to feel the heat, people just nod in agreement and let the laws roll over them. Nibbled to death by ducks, if I can mix my frog/duck metaphors.

Note: I am not a lawyer.

Thanks to C. for pointing out the contract terms.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door

Who is it for?

Here's a case of two technologies racing for the finish line.

On the one hand, the ability to fake a face into a video stream.

The Times explains:

"Emily - the woman in the above animation - was produced using a new modelling technology that enables the most minute details of a facial expression to be captured and recreated.
She is considered to be one of the first animations to have overleapt a long-standing barrier known as 'uncanny valley' - which refers to the perception that animation looks less realistic as it approaches human likeness.
Previous methods for animating faces have involved putting dots on a face and observing the way the dots move, but Image Metrics analyses facial movements at the level of individual pixels in a video, meaning that the subtlest variations - such as the way the skin creases around the eyes, can be tracked. "

Doesn't quite work, does it? The pink blankness of the rendered area is still creepy - if that's considered to be outside the uncanny valley, I guess I'm just easily creeped.

On the other hand, the ability of computers to pick a face out of a video stream is improving by leaps and bounds.

Boingboing wrote, in May:

"In "China's All-Seeing Eye," Naomi Klein explains the terrifying and banal reality of China's new surveillance state, and the way that it represents a triumph of "Homeland Security" technology swaps between the US and China:

Their task will be to match the images to other photos of the same people in the government's massive database. Several biometrics companies, including Yao's, have been invited to compete. "We have to be able to match a face in a 10 million database in one second," Yao tells me. "We are preparing for that now."

The idea is to measure the effectiveness of face-recognition software in identifying police suspects. "

In the future, we'll all be tracked all the time. There won't be any privacy. But it won't matter; no one will care as everyone knows that all video can be doctored. Caught on camera leaving a crack den? Just deny it. You're easily faked. On the other hand, if you're relying on a Van Nuys ATM's surveillance video to exonerate you from suspicion of being in Vegas that night some stuff went down? That won't work either.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

She was born to be my unicorn

The Lion and the Unicorn are the two magnificent heraldic animals on English crests. They've starred in Lewis Carroll - arguing over the lion's share of a cake. A Tyrannosaurus Rex album was entitled Unicorn and She Was Born to be my Unicorn is the title of a track thereupon.

This lovely scroll-saw carving of a heraldic unicorn was purchased at Worldcon last week. It's in bird's eye maple and is beautifully carved to bring out the characteristics of the wood. Cut as a jigsaw puzzle, it stands by itself and can be picked up whole and moved - luckily, as I'm pretty clumsy myself.


It's by Judy Peterson of Fantaminals. Their website ( is currently a bit down, which is endearing but means you can't see their other examples. Judy's email address is here. (I have slightly munged that address to foil robot email harvesters, so if you wish to write, please make the obvious changes before actually sending your request.

The whole display at Worldcon was lovely and I would have swept up the lot of to take home with me if I could. I am thinking of buying him a Lion mail order so they can stand together like the wonderful beasts they are.

unicorn detail

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tiller Road

Today's the 31st Anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. He died young, but if he'd lived, he would have been pretty old. That's how I think of it, anyway. He's always going to be younger than me now.

I remember where exactly what I was doing when I heard he'd died, on August 16th, 1977. That in itself is odd, because I'd never really thought much about him while he was alive. I was born just at the fulcrum, that cusp of pop change, 1958.

1958 is a good year to call the beginning of the modern era. Sputnik came back to Earth (it was launched in 1957). The first atom bomb was dropped on the US (friendly fire). Luckily it didn't go off. BBC's Radiophonic Workshop was established. The Notting Hill race riots occurred. (Watch Absolute Beginners for a picture of the new, post-rationing, post-austerity London and its riots.) Passenger jets flew across the Atlantic. Instant noodles were invented. Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole.

Anyone born in or after 1958 has never known a pre-army Elvis. To us, Elvis was never a snakehipped revolutionary godling. He was always the guy who made films too watery, too anodyne to even stick in the mind, the man who became Fat Elvis. By the time I knew what music was, the Beatles had arrived. I can remember hearing I Wanna Hold Your Hand for the first time and wanting more. The era of pre-music, the 2I's era, had ended.

But I do remember where I was when I heard Elvis had died. I was living in London at the time and one day there was a tremendous lightning storm. It was remarkable; London's pretty rainy at the best of times, but not like this. The sky was black and the rain was horizontal, flying along in sheets rather than rods. I got off the bus at the end of the street in this storm, and the amount of water hitting me actually choked me. I began to wonder how I'd bet back to the flat alive. The sign with the street name - a metal rectangle about four feet long and a foot wide - had blown off its concrete supports and was rocking in a puddle on the pavement. I picked it up and held it in front of my face to walk to the flat. It didn't help much but at least it kept enough water off my face that I could breathe. I got up the stairs and went inside. I was still holding the sign when my flatmate looked up at me. "Elvis is dead," he said. He was a year older than me.

I wish I'd kept the street sign.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Review: Led Zeppelin "Four Symbols" Thirty three and a third books

Photobucket, 33 1/3 Erik Davis Continuum books 2007.

This tiny book (177 two-thirds height pages) is a treasure trove. I enjoyed it immensely and I'd like to recommend it to you.


My opinion may be biased, of course. I liked it because almost everything I read there I wished I had said myself, and in a few cases, I actually have. It's an examination of the fourth Led Zeppelin album. (Davis can't bring himself to call it "Led Zeppelin's Fourth Album" or "Led Zeppelin IV" and definitely can't bring himself to call it Zoso. He settles for using the four symbols themselves as the title, which is possible in print as the characters were sent out in lead type to likely reviewers when the album came out. Since they don't exist in Unicode (by which I suppose I mean I can't find them) it makes it rather harder to title this commentary.)

A long time fan, introduced to the study of magic by the silent and "ominously puffy" example of Jimmy Page, Davis calls himself an "occulture critic". His task is to try to "articulate the mythic imagination at work in Zeppelin's music by submitting in a half remembered way, to their daemonic intensity". (p10) (He is careful to explain the difference between 'daemonic' and 'demonic'.)

His long-term interest in the band gives him a perfect perspective. For instance, I've often wondered why critics in the Seventies declared John Bonham to be a powerful but swing-free and ham-handed drummer, whereas nowadays he is officially recognized as weakly godlike and Most Amazing. Davis writes:

Zeppelin was not pure. This love of mixture and slop gave their music and beats an almost prophetic force. In the 1970s, Zeppelin's rhythms sounded, well, rather leaden. But as Robert Palmer noted in 1990, after years of hip hop and crunchy rhythms, "the lurching beats and staggered rhythms sound a lot different: they swung like mad." (p84)

His mention that, in California, "by 1971 the bloom was off the counterculture rose" opened up a new perspective for me. I had not thought of the early Seventies California singer-songwriters as sitting among the debris of a Summer of Love that had collapsed like a stoner-built geodesic dome, nor had I really thought of Going to California as capturing that 'autumnal' (as he says) melancholy vibe.

And face it, you have to admire a writer who can craft a sentence like:

But Plant's pedal doesn't really hit the metal until
where his wanderings become
a bona fide quest, like The Odyssey or The Hobbit or Bill
and Ted's Excellent Adventure
. (p75)

His insights are many. Discussing the creation of The Battle of Evermore, he contrasts Robert Plant's assertion that he had just read a book on the Scottish border wars with the mythological groundwork of the song and says, "sparks don't really fly unless myth is forged against the unyielding anvil of actual events." His theory about Stairway to Heaven – that it is a song about buying the song Stairway to Heaven – sounds wacky until you remember that, yeah, actually the song does say that, explicitly, in so many words. And who else would casually mention that "Percy…winds down the phonograph road"? Of course – the winding road is the groove itself! Why didn't I think of that?

Like most insanely detailed fanterpretations, the book tells us more about its writer than it does about Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. But in constructing such a work, Davis has performed a kind of active Sonar ping; although the communication is entirely his creation, the detail of the wavefront as it bounces off our own preconceptions tells us much about the shape and location of the record as it appears in our own minds. His trip down the winding road of the album – from the eager panting of the Black Dog before the first track starts, to the drowning, drain-circling maelstrom of engulfment that ends When the Levee Breaks, is an eye-opening journey.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Denver, again.

Black Helicopters spotted over Denver, according to the Colorado Independent.

While the commotion was taking place last evening, The Rocky Mountain News published an article with the title “Choppers are training for convention,” a report that cited the Denver police department as saying that the U.S. Department of Justice was maneuvering for the upcoming convention in Denver.But that angle quickly disappeared, replaced with today's claim by the Rocky that the exercise was a routine practice for the “global war on terrorism,” not in preparation for the August convention.

Black Helicopters are widely regarded as the beat policeman of the New World Order.

Wikipedia article on Black Helicopters.

Riffs? Yeah! Can U dig it?

The Guardian's music blog has a v. v. interesting article called School of rock: Reappraising the riff, on riffage. It's a little bit descriptive, a little bit how-to, and in the great British tradition ends with a breathtaking insult at the end.

There's little point excerpting it, so if you can indeed dig it, why not read the whole thing? Learn how the Devil's Interval and syncopation make riffs great.

The title of this piece comes from Pop Will Eat Itself's Can U Dig It? I'm going to quote them here because lyric sites are so spyware and ad-ridden it's not worth sending you there for the (otherwise persuasive) benefit of not being issued with a DMC take-down order myself.

We dig TV we dig remote control,
We dig the Furry Freak Brothers and the Twilight Zone,
We dig Marvel and D.C., we dig Run-DMC,
We dig Renegade Soundwave and AC/DC
(Can U dig it?)
Bruce Wayne auf weidersehn, Dirty Harry, Make my day,
Terminator, hit the north, Alan Moore knows the score,
Riffs? Yeah! Can U dig it?
Riffs? Yeah! Can U dig it?
We dig Optimus Prime and not Galvetron,
We dig The Leader of the Pack and the Do-Ron-Ron,
Spinderella and Bruce Lee, Good, Bad and the Ugly,
V for Vendetta and Into the Groovy.
(Can U dig it?)

Click on the pic below for a stompin' YouTube video of same, with bonus extra unadvertised track.

Lovely riff, what? I know all the words to that song and I sing it out loud in my car when it jukeboxes itself to the front of the shuffle queue. How many of its pop culture references do YOU still remember, loyal readers?

After Zeppelin, PWEI are probably my favorite band. (Off to listen to their verson of Love Missile F1-11)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Octopuses - new facts to impress your friends!

From Oceangal, news of a fascinating Octopus discovery.


According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, based on research at Sea Life centers across Europe, octopuses don't have eight legs. They have two legs and six arms. Researchers looking into whether octopuses were right-handed or left-handed found that they were ambidextrously third-from-the-front handed, and that two of their hands are legs, anyway.

This means that when another smart-alec friend says to you, "Man -the featherless biped!" you can reply, "No - octopus the featherless biped!" And then you can argue about the plural. (It's bipodes.[1])

[1] Only kidding. It's bipeds.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Denver International Airport

I'm flying home today from DIA – the well-known headquarters of the Illuminati, where they have carved out a survival area for themselves under the Mile High plain of Denver.

Pics courtesy of the site linked below

There are many grotesque murals here in the terminals, a gargoyle, and a Masonic dedication plaque. The murals show what the New World Order elites plan for the world. They include depictions of three caskets holding dead people of different races, signifying the death of many peoples. A little girl is holding a Mayan tablet, signifying the end of the world at the close of the Mayan calendar in 2012. Cities and forests are shown in flames, and a green giant is seen destroying a city. Women are seen carrying dead babies and a German boy with an iron fist is shown collecting the weapons of the world and destroying them.

There are thousands of brass floor inlays. They have fascinating designs -words (some place names, some unknown) and fossils. Any idea what language these are?

The patterns are fossils, representing extinction. This one is also pentaradially symmetric, like the Pentagon or a pentagram.

So much material was removed during the building of DIA (even though the area is flat), that some people are convinced there is a secret city under here. This is apparently where the masters will retire to oversee the destruction of the world and the creation of the New World Order.

Here is a short video.

[Video has been removed]

More information at the website here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Denvention, Sunday

At an unreasonably early Sunday hour of 10am, there was a panel called De revolutione scientiarum, or Could the scientific revolution have happened three centuries sooner? I shall never know the answer to that as the panel chose to discuss Greek and Arabic philosophy instead. Not that this was a bad thing – everyone seemed to know what he was talking about – but it was fairly heavy going.

They went off topic early, after deciding that "might have been" was a tough topic as the unintended consequences of any change rapidly outweighed the intended consequences. For instance, who at the end of WWI could have guessed that the sudden availability of cheap automobiles would radically change the mating habits of teenagers?

Another interesting thought: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" signaled the revolution that led to science. Beforehand, the heavens and earth were gods themselves, and not subject to investigation. One would not seek to understand the properties of Mars or Poseidon if they were conscious beings.

The next one was quite philosophical too. In How Will The Future Remember the 20th Century, Harry Turtledove, James Morrow and Nancy Kress discussed what a human a thousand years from now might remember about the 20th century.

Morrow thought that the 20th century had seen the beginnings of positive changes, for instance multiculturalism (signaling the beginning of the end of racism and sexism). Nancy Kress thought he was overly optimistic. He thought that it signaled the end of the belief in invisible friends controlling us. Nancy Kress thought he was not only wrong in that thought, but was incorrect, as spirituality was an important component of being human and should not diminish. Kress thought that humans could not escape our genetic make-up (which she says was honed on the savannahs) and were geared to suspicion, greed, fighting and so forth. Morrow thought that her philosophy, genetic determinism overlaid with faith in a spiritual component, was incoherent. Turtledove invented the word "dogmatotropic" to describe how people actively seek dogmas, and wants credit for it, so you read it here first, folks.

"How" will people remember us led to other discussions – will there be people? Will they remember us with human brains or some other technology? Will there only be one sort of people? Since we look back to the past and look for those strands that "led to us", they may do the same with the 20th Century.

What does stand out? The incredible body count of the last 100 years? Gandhi? The Atom Bomb? Antibiotics – or will it be the century that antibiotics actually worked, as one audience member asked.

Excellent discussion from some seasoned thinkers.

Last panel – The Coming Thing – what's next and newest in SF. Only Lou Anders turned up to this. Charlie Stross blew it off and Daniel Abraham sent his apologies. Luckily Walter Jon Williams was in the audience and was press-ganged into an involuntary panel-crash. Another wide ranging discussion at which I deduced that most books were written by authors who put all the genre names in a hat and pick two out at random. Whatever those two are, the book becomes. Werewolves and Detectives? Right. Vampires and cowboys? Why not?

The upshot seemed to be that the paranormal romance genre was saturated and something new was expected but I'm not going to tell you what it was. Hee hee.

WJW said that most SF is no longer a book with SF on the spine. It is movies, comics, TV. The writers do not consider themselves SF writers and the readers are plentiful and young. The trick will be to capture this audience for SF. For instance cover art was described as a "mating call". The jacket is a pretty flower to entice a bee to land there. If you want the bee, you need to make it attractive. And it better match what the bee wants, because he won't make the same mistake twice.

And that was my Worldcon.

Denvention, Saturday Part II

"The Bad Guy in the White Hat: Changing Images of Heroes and Villains", with James Morrow, John Moore, Mario Acevedo and Rob Gates. Many people there seemed to be writers, and indeed the last few panels I attended here did have a workshoppy feel. Morrow was thoughtful, well-read and well-spoken and very much impressed me. Among other things, he said that the default for fantasy was Manichaeism (that good and evil are separate and opposed, and in a battle for control of the world). He also said that good can imagine what it is like to be evil (and choose not to do it) but evil cannot imagine what it is like to be good. (CF Sauron not even imagining that the Fellowship would seek to destroy the ring rather than use it for their own ends.)

Apparently 1% to 4% of the population is psychopathic, in that they set out to achieve their own ends without considering the effects of their actions on others. Villains have to have a belief that they are doing the right thing. They don't think that they are being evil; they are just working towards other goals. An example given was Osama bin Laden, who is a villain to many and a hero to some. The overall gist of the conversation did seem to be that villains have always been more complex than Black Hats and White Hats (a visual signal from the silent film era, when it was impossible to shoehorn much exposition into the piece).

There was a discussion of creators changing their minds, as if embarrassed about their previous definitions of good and evil – Han Solo no longer shooting first, as the 'new' Star Wars was marketed to kids rather than young adults, the change in E.T. in rerelease, where the Secret Service Agents, who had previously been wearing guns, were now shown to be carrying only flashlights, and Harry Potter, where Harry's dad James was originally shown to be a shining example, but as the books progressed and the readership grew older, became a much more grey character, with several flaws.

The panel and audience brought up many examples of villains in film and literature – Darth Vader, who was originally a genocidal villain (redeemed at the end; unsuccessfully in Jim Morrow's eyes), then developed as a character who had initially been good but flawed in the new trilogy. Quills was mentioned, in that de Sade was a depraved but self-aware character presented as more reasonable than the other main character who was depraved and did not admit it. (Similarly for Sweeney Todd – the hero being a self-aware killer versus the depraved judge who claimed to be otherwise.) The TV series Dexter apparently features a serial killer who only kills serial killers, a tactic that allows him to live with himself.

The conversation turned to women and GLBT villains – the latter more acceptable according to Rob Gates (who runs the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards) and the former less acceptable, possibly for PC reasons, but also because male readers do not find it satisfying to have a female character killed. (Also, the major reason to kill a female character – because she goes against her nature and becomes a sexual being – is now unfashionable, according to one audience member who clearly had not seen the band the other night singing about "cougars" and how they "aren't right". Then again, she did sound to be from Australia, which is a civilized country.)

Talking of women and sex, the next panel was on the subject of Writing SF Erotica. Interesting panel; not particularly well-moderated, which meant that the conversation rambled a little and didn't answer the question in the handbook, "How far has SF come since Barbarella?" However, it did answer a number of unasked questions, such as the existence of a website which uses artists' maquettes to model threesomes in every combination of sexes and positions, so that you can describe accurately whose thigh is near whose ear without bending yourself into a pretzel trying to do it yourself. (No, I don't have the URL. I will Google it later.) Some very good writing tips at this, another workshoppy panel.

In between the villains and the threesomes, we had the 2008 Hugo Awards, another star studded fanstravaganza.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Denvention, Saturday part I

A full day today.

I started with one of the guilty pleasures of a con - going to hear editors and publishers' readers read the worst things that float to the top of the slush pile. (The "slush pile" being the name for the unsolicited submissions they receive.) It's a guilty pleasure because no one likes ripping another writer's work apart in public, but they are often so rippable - so funny - that it's impossible not to like the experience.

This year the editors must have felt subconsciously guilty too, because two out of three of them forgot their folder of slush pile gems. Erin Evans of Wizards of the Coast was the exception, and she not only cross referenced the slushees' names against the con-goers lists, but also stuck mainly to cover letters and query letters rather than the fiction itself. This allowed us in the audience to hear some of the hubris, and some of the complete lack of social skills, of the authors rather than their inability to write English. As usual, it was rib-ticklingly funny.

Ms. Evans told the tale of one person who first told the Wizards of the Coast staff that they were going to Hell ( WotC also runs Dungeons and Dragons), but finished off with a plaintive plea to buy his/her manuscript first. The others agreed - if you want to sell your work don't do that.

In fact don't do that was the theme for a lot of the excerpts, so I learned a lot.

Then a panel on Copyright, DRM and so forth in which Brad Templeton of the EFF and Jim Minz, Baen editor, acquitted themselves very well. Fascinating subject, but too long to go into here. Sample sound bite from Baen: If someone is never going to pay for an ebook, then it is not worth the investment in cash to put on DRM to prevent him stealing it. It's a waste of money.

Brad Templeton also pointed out that by moving your files into the "cloud" (cyberspace) as opposed to a computer under your control in your home, you were "erasing the Fourth Amendment" for yourself as it guarantees rights against unreasonable searches and siezures in your home, not in files in someone else's custody (except in named areas such as email, medical records and banking records).

A panel on the phenomenon of Harry Potter followed, at which I mainly wrote down tips on what people love about Potter for my own use.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Denvention, Friday Lucky 08/08/08

I went to the Masquerade tonight. I love the Masquerade.

Here's the Legendary Black Beast of Arrrghhh!, the winner of the Holy Hand-Grenade Award. (Darren Best and Marian O'Brien Clark) BTW, the Masquerade wasn't held here, by the Men's. This is just the staging/photo area. As usual, it was held in a big theater with lighting, sound and video screens.

Worldcon Masquerade picture

I also liked the costume for Garuda, and an alternate history set with Charles II and a Mexican Ambassador. The Masquerade Master of Ceremonies was Wil McCarthy.

Earlier I'd been to a panel on Alternate Histories with Harry Turtledove, Steve Stirling, Charlie Stross and others. Why do SF writers like alternate histories? In your own life you have moments you realize later were pivotal and you should have done the other thing – if you hadn't missed the bus to the interview you would have stayed in a different job and so you wouldn't have met your wife.

Writing alternative histories is a way to change things and do the right thing (or explore the wrong thing). There's also the fact that your readership is partially with you already. The background is familiar to them, and you just have to explain the changes. (Hey, this means it is historical fan fiction!) A lot of interesting ideas from a very high powered panel. All agreed that WWII stories were overdone, and all seemed to agree that The Great War was far more important, and more pivotal (WWII being really just a rematch of a war that hadn't ended decisively) and that stories set in a changed Great War would be welcome. Plan 1919 was cited as a good turning point. Half a dozen other starting points for WWI, which would have seen the countries in different states of readiness, were cited.

At the end of the panel, one member of the audience asked, "Are there any stories of smaller, more domestic changes that could have changed the world, or are they all politics and technology?" which shut the panel up immediately. I suggested the discovery/invention of contraception a thousand years ago. A gentleman next to her suggested a theory of disease that could have led to prevention or containment strategies would have changed the world utterly.

Then I went to a panel on republishing older SF works, and included quite a bit on electronic publishing and audio publishing and had some good insights into what a publisher looks for in a book in terms of sales expectations, placement in Barnes and Noble (critical) and so on.

Erik Mona said that his republished older works astonished (and pleased) younger readers who couldn't understand how in the 'old days' a pulp author could tell a whole tale – including beginning, middle and end – in 200 pages. They thought that books had to be 600 pages long (and presumably had been avoiding them for that reason).

Then I went to a panel on Dark Destinies – The Worst Future You Can Imagine, with Wil McCarthy and Michael Swanwick. The latter went straight onto my list of erudite must-see-next-time authors, with a very considered set of answers. (McCarthy was pretty good too, but Swanwick was excellent.) Some things I picked up were: Don't make your endings all dark or all light – they'll seem trite. Remember that every ending is a beginning for a new story. Evil people have rational explanations for everything they do. They aren't evil for a living. Zombies – being overwhelmed by a mass of mindless people – were very popular, as were "marching morons" scenarios. Complete control (24 hour surveillance), losing the control of your body to someone else but being forced to remain and spectate, and the possibility of losing your sense of self or identity were cited as very scary scenarios for most people.

Talking of the Masquerade and MC Wil McCarthy, Wil told what he said was the world's oldest written joke, which was:

Q: What lies beside a man's thigh and likes to poke the hole that has often been poked before?

A: A key.

I think this is a good excuse to have another couple of pictures of Jimmy Page, don't you?


key 2

Edited 08/09/08 because now I know the name of the Masquerade entry above.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My Denvention, Thursday, Part 1

Denvention, Thursday

I'm still in Denver.

You thought I was kidding about the Blue Bear. It was still banging at the door wanting in this morning.

I missed most of "Chronological Dissonance: Modern Archetypes & Morals in a Historical Setting". The take home lesson seemed to be that if you don't want your historical or foreign characters to sound like your drinking buddies or coffee group, then read primary sources to get a feel of what it was like to live in that time or culture. There was some discussion on whether the difference between them and us you see there (in e.g. the Odyssey) was due to the literary conventions of the writer or an actual difference in the way the people saw things. Interesting stuff, but I won't dilate on it here.

A not so interesting panel of "Trends in New SF- Where are we going and why?" (which the panel decided was actually "New Trends in SF"). Panel members were Charles Brown, Jim Minz, Ken Scholes, Sheila Williams and Gary something. The picture of them below is the panel reacting to a survey one of them had done on LJ which said, among other things, that a new trend in SF was multiculturalism. One of the others replied that multiculturalism in SF was actually very old.

[Photobucket has eaten picture]

I know appearances can be deceptive, but have a look the photo and estimate an answer the following question:

Q: Given that multiculturalism in SF is "old", what effect has it had on the faces we see on convention panels?


Other points: Small Press – printing is now cheap enough to make it viable; games and movies, rather than pointing in new directions are perennially 30 years behind print; Young Adult is big big big; cellphone novels are big in Japan; movies now have a small press – it's called YouTube.

My Denvention, Thursday, part II

A panel on "Aliens – writing what you don't know" was fascinating. Larry Niven and LE Modesitt, moderated by Jetse DeVries, discussed how to get the "other" into aliens. I'm tempted to snark that three older male Westerners probably have more aliens to study than most. 94% of the world already looks and/or acts differently from them so they have lots of models. Modesitt was erudite and charming and indeed says that he gets his "aliens" from the range of human behavior he sees around him. Niven builds aliens mechanistically. He starts with the strange chemistry, physiology and morphology, builds a set of thought patterns based on that, and a culture based on those thought patterns. Then he brings in the humans and has the 'natural' reaction take place. They agreed to disagree. Modesitt remarked that The New Scientist recently had published something showing that men and women were physiologically so different that they really were alien to each other. (New Scientist keeps publishing this 'news' and although I haven't read this one, I think that a good re-read of "The Mismeasure of Man" should take care of any lingering doubts that it's made up.) It was good to see two greats of the field discussing one of the most important techniques in SF – creation of 'the other', the 'monster' that acts as a mirror of our human values and is a primary tool in making SF interesting.

Then a panel on Fan Fiction. See if you can spot a difference between this panel and all the previous ones:

fan fiction

Also, the audience was at least 95% female, and, very cheeringly, about 90% under 40. Since everyone in the room was a practitioner, rather than a consumer listening to the producer, the conversation was very different from the previous panels. No resolutions to anything, of course – panels are a sort of live-action blog comments section with the main difference being that there isn't a rule that everyone has to start arguing over the plural of octopus.

Last meeting before suppertime was "Torchwood: Doctor Who for Grown-Ups?" which was packed, and very vociferous and included a number of people, gay and presumably straight, who liked it for the gay sex. Ah, teh gay sex! It was almost like being back on line again, with my people, instead of out in real-life fandom.

On the way back to the hotel, there was a live band playing in a tent on the street to a couple thousand drunks being canvassed by the army recruiters. Don't know what the gig was, but as we walked by, the song they were playing was about a "Cougar call". "They look good, but something's not right," the band sang about "cougars" (older women who are cruising for men). It's interesting that outside the convention it seems everyone is pretty decided on 'the other", "the alien", "the monster" – it is women over 40 who want a man. This desire is apparently so unnatural that it triggers the humor response (humor being related to the attack response in that it is a short circuited version of the same thing) when played to drunks.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Blogging from the Worldcon

I'm blogging…oh, I love that word – It makes me feel so semi-professional… from Denvention, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention in Denver. Fen (Science Fiction fans) refer to this yearly event as the Worldcon. Most people so far who know I'm going to Denver have asked me if I'm here for the Democratic Convention. To which I say, "There's a Democratic Convention?" Anyway, I think that's next week. Obama will be in the house to sweep away any remaining elves or Ancient Ones.

Science Fiction is about the Shock of the New, about Cognitive Dissonance. Today the most cognitively dissonant thing occurred when I stepped outside of the convention center. No, not the giant blue bear that's hammering at the entrance doors, but the fact that in Denver, they keep water in the sky and it falls on your head in drops as you are walking back to the hotel. I'm told this is called 'precipitation' or 'rain' for short.

It completely took me by surprise, despite the following things being true for me:
1. I used to live in England, which also had this feature
2. Southern California has had 'rain' as recently as two years ago and I should have remembered it
3. My two hour flight to Denver was delayed by two hours because of a thunderstorm at Denver International Airport. And when the pilot said this – because of course he didn't tell us we weren't going to take off until after we'd been shoehorned into the cabin – I said "Typical! There's a thunderstorm every day there in the summer – I've been delayed at Denver before!"

Still it was a bit of a surprise. I was not wearing any wet weather gear, which according to someone I overheard in the elevator later, is called 'a hoodie'. I must get me one of these things.
The convention so far has featured the least organized line for badges I've ever encountered, but that might be some sort of a teething problem. I've been to several panels – one on the early reading of Tolkien, which seemed to alternate between people who read Tolkien early (in the 50s and 60s) and people who read Tolkien while young (we all seemed to start around 12). I was probably hoping for something different, a journey through the relationship between beatniks, hippies and Tolkien, but I can't say the panelists were wrong in the tack they took and they were certainly very interesting. One asked, "Can you imagine what it was like to read 'The Two Towers' when it first came out in the 50s and then have to wait almost a year for 'Return of the King' to be published? There are probably people still in asylums who went mad wondering how the fellowship would get out of their predicaments." To which I wanted to answer, "Yes, I waited for the last Harry Potter book and it's exactly the same thing!" But I thought the room would rise up and suppress me, so I didn't.

Then I went to a panel on how to schmooze, featuring John Scalzi, who could schmooze anyone at any time, and so was a great panelist. Some of this was general (how not to be a wallflower at a party) but since this is Worldcon and the panel included a Famous Person and an Agent, it also talked a bit about schmoozing for business and meeting famous people. Things I learned included:
  • "Hello" is a great opener. It's tried and tested and always works, if only because the automatic response "hello" is generated, so you have the other party's attention
  • It's okay to have a squee moment when you meet a hero - they do actually like it - but get over it and get on to the interesting stuff if you want to get anything out of the encounter
  • Find common ground for a discussion, even if it's the weather or the flight in
  • If you're meeting someone who is at a convention, you can get an idea of what interests them from their panels. Use an item they discussed as an 'in'
  • If you meet someone who is in conversation with others as you go up to them, listen for a while to get the gist of the conversation and ease your way into it that way
  • Remember the other person is always the most interesting and don't try to monopolize the conversation with tales of ME!!!11!
  • If you've met someone before and they say, "And what have you been up to lately?" Don't say, "Same old same old" or "Not so much". They've probably forgotten how they know yo and this is your chance to remind them who you are and what you do.
  • If someone gives you a business card or tells you to drop by their website, do it. Follow up with a "I so enjoyed meeting you at Worldcon and having that conversation about…" on their guest book or email. They'll remember you much better after a follow up
    If your conversation about the weather is returned by an invitation to talk about yourself or your book, have an elevator speech ready. Use tiers – one sentence to describe the concept and then thirty seconds to round it out. One panelist described her book as "CSI with a Mae West AI" which I can see would generate attention for the next thirty seconds. John Scalzi, once invited to pitch his second book before he had actually written it, came up with "Man solves diplomatic incident through action scenes and snappy dialogue." Very clever
  • If you are invited to follow up with something more, do follow submission guidelines and don't trust simply to "Remember me? We had the conversation about the weather at the Worldcon."

The last panel was on whether the ubiquity of Google means people don't have to learn anything any longer. I didn't take notes but the general conclusion seemed to be, "Kids of today with their long hair and so called music. They don't know anything. It wasn't like that in my day. Get off my lawn!" Plus there were a number of contributions from a representative of Google who was in the audience with a suspiciously generic black suit and a generic name "Tom". Methinks he was a spy. Not that he could have spied much as Google already knows everything about me, including many things I don't even know about myself.

I didn't go to the opening ceremony, because I was tired by then. I think that's why they usually put them at the start. However, Denvention is all about breaking the rules! And Klingons.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Wonderful World of MP3

It came to my attention the other day that not everyone knows about MP3 blogs. Unsurprising - they are shy, retiring creatures. But they have been around since at least 2003, and they are a wonderful resource for a music fan.

An MP3 Blog is a blog which offers access to digitized music that isn't available anywhere else. There is usually a short post, which explains the significance and impact of the track or album, there's a picture of the cover and then there's a link to Rapidshare or other download site.

MP3 Blogs pride themselves on offering rare, unavailable music. If you need the latest Miley Cyrus offering, you would want to look elsewhere. But yesterday I downloaded a Peter Wyngarde album from 1970. I found The Groupies on MP3. I'm currently listening to Graham Bond's Holy Magick. If you're seeking something you've heard about but can't find in the usual outlets, search the blogs.

I usually search using Addictomatic . Google's pretty useless for this type of search. Type in your keywords as usual and Addictomatic will separate the results into types - including blogs ("bloglines"). Look through the results for an MP3 download. Then download it from the offered site. (These are not P2P, or peer-to-peer downloads that require a seeder. The files are already there in cyberspace and you're downloading it to your hard drive without other computers sharing the task.) Usually the files are zipped - they end in .rar. Save the files in a folder and use Winrar to unpack them. If there is a part 2, download it into the same folder before unpacking. Winrar will sew all the files together automatically. You can play these files with Windows Media Player, or put them on an MP3 player.

Some people won't use MP3 blogs because, well, because they're MP3s, which is a low-end, lossy way to encode music. Fine- if you can find a torrent or other source of FLAC or WMA files, take those. For most of this type of track, the only way you're going to hear them is on MP3 - so you might as well go for it.

One plea though - if you like an MP3 and you find the music is available somewhere on CD, please go ahead and buy it. Artists have to eat too. In fact, if it wasn't creeping me out so much, I'd buy the Graham Bond album on import even though Bond no longer needs to eat.

Search Engines:


The Hype Machine

A Few Individual Blogs:
Anomalous Mind
Floodlit Footprint

Friday, August 01, 2008

Edit: Sitemeter's problems now over

If your blog does not load in Internet Explorer, you need to remove the Sitemeter code until the problem is fixed. How do you know if the problem is Sitemeter? Go to and if the page does not load, it means the problem is not yet fixed. The text of the error is “Internet Explorer cannot open the internet site.”

Here is an article on the Sitemeter problem. Go to One Project Closer

The site includes full instructions on how to Fix the IE error on Wordpress, Blogger, and Other Sites.

I will try to replace my old blog template and blogroll tomorrow. Goodnight, all!

Update: Back to normal. Sitemeter apparently interacted badly with a hidden bug in Internet Explorer and an upgrade led to this being brought out in spectacular fashion.

Problems here at Blogger...

If you have had difficulty getting to this site apologies.

So have I.

It seems to be related to the Sitemeter (hit counter). Since the blog was inaccessible, and Sitemeter's site was inaccessible, the only way I could clear it was to brute-force revert the blog to the original look (it's called Classic!) and discard every change I've ever made to the layout.

Apologies to those on the blogroll who have disappeared, and those enjoying the rare time I used an LJ-Cut. Hopefully whatever is ailing Sitemeter will go away and I can go back to my custom template. In the meantime, here is some soothing music.

Jimmy Page laying it on with a trowel. Somewhere Leon Theremin is smiling.


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I sometimes mention a product on this blog, and I give a URL to Amazon or similar sites. Just to reassure you, I don't get paid to advertise anything here and I don't get any money from your clicks. Everything I say here is because I feel like saying it.