Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Benevolent Stalker guilty of being not very benevolent

I see the "Benevolent Stalker" - a writer who bottled a woman who gave him a one-star review, has pleaded guilty.

I wrote about him in detail here. I didn't use the full names of the people concerned as it was all still a bit mysterious at the time. Now he's guilty, I guess it doesn't matter anymore.

Here is Metro's write up on the court appearance. Excerpt:
Brittain, who lives in Bedford, pled guilty to engaging in conduct which caused Ms Durant fear or alarm by repeatedly pursuing her, approaching her, following her and publishing a story about stalking her in September 2014.
He also admitted assaulting Ms Rolland with a bottle on October 3, 2014 at Asda, Fullerton Road, Glenrothes.
Glasgow Sheriff Court heard Brittain uploaded part of a published book of his [...] Miss Rolland read the excerpt and left comments.[...] ‘The feedback was negative. [...] ‘He went to the alcohol aisle and picked up a bottle of wine, he then went to the aisle where the complainer was working. [...]the accused approached without warning, any provocation or words and he struck the complainer on the back of the head with the bottle.
He traveled a couple of hundred miles just to hit a Wattpad critic over the head. And then people wonder why some people prefer to use pseudonyms on the net.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Short story: Nereid

I have a new story, Nereid, up for anyone to read at my Livejournal.

The story looks at some scenes in the life of a rich, famous rock star and the supernatural being who pursues him.  I'm putting it up for Halloween, but his Nereid is not very scary - unless you're afraid of being drowned, which he is. She's not truly evil, either, merely implacable and very, very focused on him.

When I first put this tale out readers said, "She's addiction, isn't she?" and I said yes, probably. Is she addiction to drugs, though, or to fame and fortune? Or - perhaps she really is just a beautiful mermaid who knows exactly where he lives and how to find him.

You can read Nereid here. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Psychedelic Britannia - BBC 4 2015 (review)

This BBC production says it is about psychedelia and the reinvention of pop in the mid to late sixties - in Britannia.

I'm in the middle of writing a novel about a top-flight English folk-rock band that went to get its head together in the countryside, and so any docos about the phenomenon are obviously going to be of interest.

Psychedelic Britannia is available here for a month. Hurry hurry hurry!

Featuring a large number of performance snippets and plentiful quotes from people who were there, it's a well-crafted, well-supported but not particularly deep look at psychedelia. Its thesis is that British pop, I guess in the form of the British Invasion (it doesn't state) was blues and R&B based and could not really be considered British, but in the mid sixties, psychedelia superseded it and was home-grown enough to be an original artform. This leap is signaled by a clip of The Yardbirds playing with Gregorian Chants on Still I'm Sad.

They cut to Ginger Baker talking about jazz and about forming The Cream...jazz? And after a fairly compelling bit about Pink Floyd, the Oxford countryside and the Wind In the Willows ambience that inspired Syd Barrett, they're off to talk with Soft Machine who idolized John Coltrane and played jazz.  Then off to the Incredible String Band who apparently took their inspiration from Morocco, but apart from that, y'know, all British.

Apart from the inability to avoid jazz, the programme makes a good fist of its thesis.  The Hippies (they avoid that word) idolized the dreamy riverbanks and trippy rabbit holes of children's books, it claims, because their childhood was fucked up by WWII. I can see that being true, and it's the first time a doco has ever made me remotely sympathetic to British hippies and their gnomes. [1] It's amusing that they cut from Alice In Wonderland to someone describing the descent down the dark steep stairs to the UFO club without anyone making the connection with a rabbit hole.

It covers the period where bands stopped singing baby baby and instead sang about Sunshine Superman and Strawberry Fields very well - the music stopped being transatlantic, as someone put it.  Lyrics became about British landscapes and actual stories from childhood - Arnold Layne, See Emily Play. There's obligatory coverage of the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, including a short scene of Cockney mods not enjoying themselves which I've never seen before.  The programme's take is that taking LSD is the central tenet of psychedelia but I don't think it really makes the case for it. Everybody did take LSD, but apart from a few lyrics about hearing the grass grow and so forth, I'm not sure it had that much impact.

Joe Boyd is interviewed and we hear similar takes to his White Bicycles (which I reviewed here). Steve Howe, Arthur Brown,  the irrepressible Twink,  Barry Miles, Gary Brooker and half a dozen others also feature. They speak of the flight to the natural, the countryside, the Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams view of life, updated. The wonders of nature, Vashti Bunyan hearing about Donovan's private islands near Skye, setting off in a vardo, hoping to bring about a community and yet hoping to keep traveling at the same time, a tension you can hear in rock lyrics again and again. She imagines a world without electricity, without running water, a simple way of life...which, without trying to be rude, is probably why we didn't hear from her for thirty five years after she set off.  I'm all for the simple life but it does need to have a wi fi connection.

The scene peaked in 1967 and was gone by 1970. Increased police harassment and a growing realization that thinking really hard about a peaceful, child-like world wasn't really going to bring it about were significant factors in its demise.  Unrest in Ulster, Grosvenor Square and the National Front are name-checked as contributory causes.  All in all, a flash in the pan. A very colorful one, but a misfire nevertheless.

[1] Well, apart from Tyrannosaurus Rex, not in this programme, who can sing about gnomes all they want.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dreams we gottem

For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates
Trump tops GOP field while talking to voters at fourth-grade level
I'm surprised by this, though: The article quotes Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor, which apparently "analyzes trends and language" as saying, “Good communication is good communication. . . . ‘I’ve got a Dream,’ all those great speeches are nice, and direct. They use words people understand. They give a big message, but they’re not grandiose.”

When I first came to the US, 30 years ago, almost no-one said "I've got [a thing]." They said, "I have [a thing]." It was diagnostic of British English versus American English. I've noticed "I've got" becoming more popular among American speakers over the years and it's now unremarkable. But, of course, Dr. King didn't say, "I've got a dream," he said "I have a dream," like a normal American of the time period. 

In fact, with a thing like a dream, which you "have" by imagining it, rather than by possessing it, "have" makes more sense than "got".  You'd certainly say "I had a dream last night" rather than "I had gotten a dream last night."  (Or "I had got a dream last night", since British English speakers don't conjugate "got".)

It's really strange to see an expert in communication translate such a famous line into a modern idiom so unconsciously. Either that, or he wasn't talking about Martin Luther King but referring to the song from Tangled (2010) which uses the modern phrase!

Another chimera in the news: man 'fails' paternity test

A little bugbear of mine: Chimeras.

A man is in the news today as a chimeric human because he 'failed a paternity test'. On further investigation, it turned out that the genetic makeup of his sperm producing cells is different from the genetic makeup of his blood producing cells, so a genetic test on his blood does not match the genetics of his offspring.

The man is not actually a monster

So far so obvious - lots of people are chimeras, for example, all women who have ever been pregnant. Fetal cells circulate in the mother's blood, settle down and become part of the mother. (Because this rarely impacts criminal identification or personhood ethics, it's not seen as important, and is called microchimerism.) But lots of fathers (and other people) are chimeras, because two embryos fused in their mother's womb to become one person. What riles me - my bugbear - is that they refer to this man's "dead twin", and "unborn twin", that he "absorbed the genes of his twin, who died early in the pregnancy."

"It is thought cells from a miscarried sibling were absorbed by the man while he was in the womb"
The Independent (Italics my own)

This is all codified anti-choice propaganda. It's important to the media that it pushes the idea that each person has "unique genes" and that a single cell "becomes a person" the minute (or rather the several hours) that sperm and egg fuse and become a cell with a new genetic makeup.

It's nonsense. Lots of pregnancies start out as multiples, and in some cases two different embryos become one, as in this man's case. Lots of pregnancies start out as single embryos that split, making identical twins, or more rarely, identical triplets. No one says that identical twins have only one soul between them, or only make up one person between them. Why would you say that one person "died" if two embryos become one? Only for propaganda purposes.

Telling this man "your twin died" could devastate him. In fact, both sets of cells were born, and he's both of them. And it's perfectly normal.

Happy St. Crispin's Day!

Today is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

Kenneth Branagh and the legendary Brian Blessed rouse the ragged band of Englishmen to victory against the French.

Or Laurence Olivier, in a production that looks like it takes place in Disneyland, giving you little hope for the speech until Olivier, natch, pulls it off spectacularly.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Kabocha squash dismemberment

How irritating. These are the last two kabocha squash from my garden. They were outside on the tiles waiting to become dinner. The - presumed - raccoon has bitten a careful hole in both, scooped out all the seeds and eaten the inside of the seeds.

If he'd waited, I would have eaten the orange flesh and thrown the seeds on the compost heap. Then we'd both have had some.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch) 2013 (review)

I’m a bit late catching up with the 2013 Jim Jarmusch movie Only Lovers Left Alive, but now that I’ve found it, it’s replaced my perennial go-to romantic film Velvet Goldmine as the standard for films about eternal lovers.

Ex-rock star Adam – he’s 500, but looks 30 – and the older Eve – 3000, who looks somewhere between 40 and 2500 – are married but live separately. Eve lives in Tangier, surrounded by piles upon piles of books, where she can regularly meet her friend Kit Marlowe, who has settled in this historically literary Moroccan city to ‘scratch out’ more plays and live with his current protégé, Bilal.  Adam lives in a Detroit Victorian home, in a part of the city that has returned to nature. He lives in America’s musical heartland, but his only neighbors are coyotes and the occasional skunk. 

Adam and Eve. To his credit, the filmmaker seems to realize that's an old fiction chestnut and goes beyond.

He’s a musician, and a determinedly analog one.  The film opens with him relaxing with a lute and his home is a paradise of reel-to-reels, wave-generators, tube amplifiers and record players stacked up to the ceilings.  He puts on the 45 of Wanda Jackson’s Funnel of Love and we see that he and Eve have a psychic connection; from Tangier she can tell he is sinking into ennui. It’s happened before.  He despises zombies (humans) and their lack of imagination, their non-acceptance of their own brilliant scientists, their lack of ecological stewardship and the creeping, but unexplained ‘contamination’ that’s driven the vampires away from most supplies of human blood. (All three get their fixes from hospital supplies of nice, clean O negative. Adam disguises himself as a ‘doctor’ – called Dr Faust first, Dr Caligari the second time we see him - to infiltrate the hospital. Marlowe also obtains his and Eve's blood from a hospital. He doesn’t say how, but it’s hinted that all things are available, in Tangier.)

Wanda Jackson. At first I thought it must be the Cramps version, but no, it's the 45 played at 33.

Eve calls Adam on her iPhone – her Apple, get it? – and Adam answers on his old fashioned telephone handset with a cord, which he hooks up to a cathode ray tube TV in order to Skype with her.  She agrees to come see him, though travel, even at night, is debilitating for their kind.

Meanwhile, Ian, his eager but gormless roadie/hanger on, brings him some goodies he’s scored: a 1959 Supro (Adam sights along its neck to check for straightness like a pro), a “weird” Hagstrom, a Gretsch Chet Atkins 6120 with double-cutaway and an early sixties Silvertone with the amp built into the guitar case.  We get our first joke:  As Adam respectfully looks over the Gretsch, he mentions he saw Eddie Cochran play one of those...but it had been modified - the front pickup was a Gibson P-90.  “You saw Eddie Cochran play?” Ian asks incredulously. Cochran died in 1960. “Yeah,” Adam replies, thinking quickly, “On YouTube.”  There’s no chance, of course, that Adam watches YouTube.  There are a lot of jokes, all delivered so deadpan that at first I didn’t realize how funny the movie is.

Eve comes over, and while he’s out picking up more blood, she discovers he has a revolver with a single wooden bullet.  Distraught, she tries to bring him out of his existential malaise and they go for a drive, at night, obviously, through deserted Detroit. The vacant lots, the faded glory, the stately procession of sights – the Michigan Theater, the Packard plant - all build the feeling of long lives flowing towards some sort of enforced change.

Hastening this, Eve’s “little sister” – (“Is she a blood relative?” “Well, blood was involved.”), an apparently Millennial (she can’t be much more than 85), vacuous, LA-dwelling bundle of energy, unsophistication and raw need blasts into their lives (without even waiting to be invited over the threshold!), wrecks everything and is ultimately unceremoniously thrown out. Adam and Eve flee to Tangier, where they find Marlowe is sick from contaminated blood, though he manages to summon the energy for one more dig at Shakespeare. Marlowe wrote all his plays, of course.

Eve, Adam, Little Sister Ava and gormless Ian. 

Drained from travel, without a supply of clean blood, they listen to a Lebanese singer in a local café and contemplate their options.  Adam finds time for another bon mot – no, he doesn’t wish fame on the singer; she’s too good for that.

Starving, they sit on a bench as the cock crows.  A pair of lovers walk by and embrace by a wall. Adam and Eve can drink the couple’s blood or die when the sun comes up. They make their choice, and the film fades to black.

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfect for this film. He’s dark, snake-hipped, high-cheekboned and a perfect high-register RP English speaker. He handles humor, particularly where the younger sister is concerned, with understated physical action. Swinton is blonde to the point of translucency, with eyes the size of saucers, a mane of hair uncombed since about 360 BCE and a cut-glass upper class accent.  They flawlessly portray lovers who have been together so long they don’t need to be in close contact, and who have their undying love of art and science in common.

Other reviews seem to think of them as hipsters – effortlessly cool. I didn’t see it that way. True, they were into your favorite artist before he was popular, but that’s because they’re over 500 years old. They knew Shakespeare. Adam remembers Byron as a bit of an ass.  I saw their eclectic tastes as having brewed slowly. One trusted way to play electric guitar, lute and oud well is to practice. And if you practice for a few hundred years you’re going to be very good. If you’ve read everybody in every language, more than once, your taste in authors will be wide-ranging.  And yes, they name-drop Jack White, a hipster fave, but I got the impression that’s because Jack is one of them – they were excited to drive by his old house, but note neither of them suggests finding his current house for a visit, just as they keep away from ‘the others’.

Ultimately I see the movie as a meditation on love, on art, but also on the phenomenon of middle-aged people trying to come to terms with the changes in their city, the world, the newfangled fashions and technology, and above all the lack of artistic sophistication that (the film suggests) characterizes the Youth of Today.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cyanotype t-shirt printing - Dodge and Burn

Recently, I mentioned my envy at those who got to go to Nashville, and have Third Man Records make them a limited edition 'dodge and burn' t shirt using the cyanotype method.

Luckily, cyanotype is just about the easiest way to print a t-shirt, so I made my own!

I used the powdered cyanotype chemicals - looking at Third Man's video, I think they used the liquid version, which is probably easier (less weighing out cyanide in the kitchen involved). The liquid is part number 07-0091 from same dealers.

I used it exactly as in the instructions (PDF), but with both dichromate contrast enhancer and a hydrogen peroxide oxidizer/darkener bath. (I probably only needed the latter.) It only took a four minute exposure in full sun here in So Cal in early October, but probably much longer in winter in most places (so do a test on an old sheet before using an expensive blank t shirt). 

My test sheet was a drawing I had to do in my sketching class. Yes, it's a copy, but it's my drawing if you know what I mean. 

For the negative, I used the picture on the Best Buy CD box, enlarged, contrast enhanced and with the "W" removed in photoshop. I reversed the image and laser printed it on an overhead transparency sheet. (Special stock these days - Apollo CG 7060.) 

I'll order a bunch more t shirts and do some other negatives. (Before anyone asks, Third Man would no doubt frown on me making a lot of copies of their limited edition item, so I won't be doing any more.)

A screenshot from Third Man's video showing their process - the negative sheet is being pulled away from the exposed cloth (it's not blue at this point in the process):

A photo (ganked from Facebook) of an original, genuine t shirt from Third Man. (The image is slightly larger and much less saturated than mine.)

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Dead Weather - Lose the Right live performance and Alison's lyric-writing technique

The fourth and final - I almost wrote fourth and vinyl there - Dead Weather technique video and live performance is up today. They chose Billboard for the honor, and Billboard reciprocated by spelling Mosshart incorrectly in the URL and getting the bass player's name wrong. It's okay, we all know who you are, Jack Lawrence!

As in the previous three, the article isn't very informative but the video is.  In it, we hear that Alison writes lyrics while driving, as in actually writes on a piece of paper while driving, which sounds dangerous to me. She won't listen to her own voice on tape - odd for a famous singer - so she won't record the lyrics, so I politely suggest she buys a voice-to-text app. It will have all those funny errors robots make when they listen to the spoken word, but that'll just make the lyrics even more interesting.  (I think her spoken voice is lovely - she has a perfect accent and just enough grainy tenor to make it gritty.)

Nice car too. There's also an appearance by a Brake Hedgehog (the best kind) and several rather pushy mannequins. The featured song is Lose The Right.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Crimson and Clover by Juli Page Morgan (book review)

Juli Page Morgan’s debut novel Crimson and Clover is reissued this week in a brand new, updated edition!

It’s unusual for me to pluck a book off the shelves that’s marketed as “Romance”, but this one is special – it takes place in my favorite era, my favorite place and stars my favorite people – rockers. So I snapped it up.

From Birmingham, Alabama, by way of Haight Ashbury, Katie travels to Swinging London for rock’n’roll, British accents and bacon. She meets rock singer Adam, but soon realizes her mistake – her real passion is for dark-haired lead guitarist Jay Carey. Katie and Jay fall in love, but Jay’s career involves long weeks on the road, where rock’n’roll’s natural companions, sex and drugs, always beckon. And Katie has a secret that’s she sure will drive Jay away if she reveals it – and the secret is one which, if they stay together long enough, he’s bound to learn.

I loved this story, at first for the obvious reasons (Ladbroke Grove, rock music, late sixties) and as I read on, I loved it for other reasons as well. For a start, although Katie is described as wanting a June Cleaver, white-picket-fence family life, she’s no pushover when she encounters the rock stars and their tough managers and road managers. She maintains her own vision as she lives and works among them. And one reason why I normally avoid things shelved in Romance is that I can’t stand the stress of three hundred pages of true lovers being kept apart by step-mothers, angry aunties, finicky fortune-inheriting rules, sadistic lords of the manor, World War II and all the other conflicts writers use to keep couples apart until the Big Ending. In many of these stories I feel the writer wanted to tell the story of How Frodo Got To Destroy the Ring After Three Book’s Worth Of Set-Backs rather than an actual romance. None of that in Crimson and Clover; the pair find each other quickly and satisfyingly, and tension arises naturally from the plot revelations. Given all that could come between them, can Katie really keep Jay Carey?

I think we’ve all seen those movies where Michael York, with his cut-glass accent and wearing a suit with a white carnation in the jacket pocket, has to interact for some manufactured reason with a Freak (played, if we’re lucky by Twink, if we’re not lucky (and we usually aren’t lucky) played by a toffee-nosed RADA graduate in a paisley blouse and fright wig) who says Hey Man and Groovy a lot and eventually persuades ‘uptight’ Basil to wear flares (bell bottoms) and trip out on pot in a Soho basement filled with writhing mini-skirted dolly birds and atonal music by a band probably called The Chocolate Teapot. This is not the book of that movie. As a Led Zeppelin fan, Juli has fully explored the late sixties and early seventies. As a DJ, Juli has met and mingled with real rock stars of various kinds and flavors. She understands (and more importantly, can get down on the page) the power and intensity of rock music and the intervening hours and days of monotony that accompany it – traveling on the road, staying in hotel rooms, bickering with band-mates, managers and wives – and uses the contrast to drive the plot and build well-rounded, fully human characters.  

Disclosure – I’m a friend of Juli’s, in that internet way where we’ve known each other for ages and yet have never met in real life. We bonded on a Led Zeppelin message board (of course) and shared our mutual appreciation of Ladbroke Grove, the late sixties and long-haired rock guitarists – all of which are featured in Crimson and Clover as well as in my own stories.

Read Chapter One of Crimson and Clover here.

Find Crimson and Clover at:  Amazon | Smashwords | iTunes | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | All Romance

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Dead Weather: Live performance of Let Me Through and guitar technique

Third in the series of four Dead Weather technique videos:

Guitar World has the exclusive on Dean Fertita's guitar playing with the band, which he illustrates afterwards during the band's performance of Let Me Through from the new album Dodge and Burn.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dead Weather - Be Still (live performance, video)

Continuing the Dead Weather's Dodge and Burn album release blitz, a live performance of Be Still for you.

I note that the mannequins, including the Madonna of the Amplifier, are unable to follow the injunction to Be Still and move around capriciously. But not as capriciously as the goat, in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo appearance.

Goats are cool.

No "how to" instrumental technique on this one, alas.

The album drops tomorrow, so I'll be at Best Buy, angling for a free t shirt.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dodged and Burned Dead Weather poison t shirt coming to a store not near you (in Nashville)!

I realize I'm functioning mainly as the Yorkshire arm of the Dead Weather publicity machine these days, but I can't help it. It's all so exciting! Third Man are printing limited edition cyanotype t shirts.

They don't go into details of their process - they say they use dodge and burn to make the image. (The album is called Dodge and Burn) but you don't see it in the video. And... is it safe to wear a t shirt dyed with ferric ferrocyanide?

Who cares? They're for framing anyway!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

For Doctor Who, a brickbat (not really)

I'm sure everyone who watched Doctor Who last night (2015-09-19) enjoyed the Douglas Adams-style jokes in the arena. One of them sounded familiar.
I'm not accusing Moffat of ripping this off - I'm sure two people can come up with the same to-a-person-from-the-far-future-British-culture-gets-confusing joke. It's just I re-read it recently and it was on my mind, along with the whole paragraph of great puns around it.
It's from Michael Moorcock's Dancers At the End of Time tales, this one being Pale Roses, from New Worlds Quarterly 7, edited by Hilary Bailey and Charles Platt, 1974.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Dead Weather: Mile Markers and bass technique, Late Show performance (videos)

This week it's lucky Mojo who gets the exclusive on the Dead Weather video release and not only new, but a premiere performance of a song.

The song is Mile Markers, from the soon-to-be-released album Dodge and Burn, and and the 'technique' part of the film is handled by Little Jack Lawrence, who is all about that bass.  He demonstrates - oops, wrote demon states at first there - the use of his bass microsynth and the riff from Blue Blood Blues and Mile Markers.

I'm surprised Little Jack has such long glossy hair, because when he switched on that microsynth pedal, the sound blew mine right off, and I'm standing behind a monitor.

Added: for a bonus, here's the Dead Weather's performance of I Feel Love (Every Million Miles) on the Stephen Colbert Late Show:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Dead Weather: Hang You From the Heavens (new version) and drum technique (video)

Modern Drummer  has an exclusive on a Dead Weather's video on instrument technique.

Today they are showcasing Jack White himself on drums, and three other videos will be forthcoming.

Today's is a ten minute video, starting with Jack explaining his drumkit and why it is the way it is, and (at the 6:08 mark) going into a kickass new version of Hang You From the Heavens featuring the whole band (authentic non-doppleganger version) a pile of tires and some of the mannequins from the I Feel Love (Every Million Miles) video premiered last week.

During the song, Alison plays herself. The "Alison" at the six minute mark appears to be Jack's little daughter, Scarlett.  Who the "Alison" is in the first minute of the video, I have no clue. I thought was Jack at first (same nasolabial folds) but unless Jack had his Adam's Apple shaved for the part, I guess it isn't him. Any guesses?

Friday, September 04, 2015

David Bowie : Starman by Paul Trynka (book review)

I recently picked up a copy of Paul Trynka’s biography, David Bowie : Starman.

It dates back to 2011, but I didn’t buy it at the time having burned out on a couple of biographies of rock stars that you would imagine would be fascinating but were, frankly, crashing bores – mostly the Iggy Pop Open Up and Bleed book also by Trynka), which failed to deliver a portrait of a man raised by wolves in a trailer park, and instead delivered a rather dull middle-class American, as did the Kurt Cobain book and the Eric Clapton book (if you substitute English for American). David Bowie, as a quintessential lower-middle-class southern English war-baby, didn’t seem much more promising. I was wrong.

For many rock stories, these days, I can turn to YouTube and get the history, in a few thousand spoken words, along with sights and sounds of the era and if I’m lucky, and if the producer has paid the royalties, even the songs of the rock star in question. So, given that I’ve watched Five Years (while it was available) and a number of other Bowie documentaries, what is the advantage of a book?

Words, mainly. (But you knew that.) The book must have around 120,000 of them, which is sufficient to explain nuances in relationships and timelines as well as evoke feelings and paint mental pictures. Trynka has done an enormous amount of research, and seems to have tracked down pretty much anyone who spoke to David Bowie throughout his career, and placed their words carefully where they’ll do the most good in the narrative. He’s also taken care to keep mentioning dates and, when a person or event re-enters the scene after an absence, makes sure to recap briefly. This makes the book, unlike so many others, a pleasure to dip into at random, or use as a reference. In a book this long, there’s always a time or two when you flip through the previous few pages in confusion thinking something like, “Wait, have we had the festival yet? Did I miss it?” but his style keeps that to a minimum.

I don’t need to recap the David Bowie story here, so I won’t.  His first hits came as I first started buying records, although the records I bought were by T. Rex. Bowie was a feared rival. Apart from a fallow period recently, he’s continued to have hits since, and the way he’s managed to keep re-inventing himself has always been of some interest. Trynka has a lot to say about his methods, from Oblique Strategies, to putting an unrehearsed, inexperienced band in the studio and demanding they deliver, to obsessively working out details beforehand. It seems he’s used all types of methods, and is vastly well-read in the philosophy and psychology of his art, as well. Surprisingly, neither Bowie nor his biographer seem to think he has much innate talent – they both put it down to obsessive, single-minded hard work.

The story weaves in an out of others that I’ve read – Marc Bolan, Mick Jagger, Lori Mattix (Maddox, Madox), Jimmy Page, Andy Warhol and the aforementioned Iggy Pop, and many that I haven’t, though I probably should – Lou Reed, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon. From a Mod hustling in London to a rather diaphanous character living in indescribably luxury with Iman, probably in a pink castle on a cloud near the Big Rock Candy Mountain, it’s not your average rags to riches tale but it is constantly interesting. 

Dead Weather - I Feel Love (Every Million Miles) - video

The "live" video for the Dead Weather's new single, I Feel Love (Every Million Miles) is here.

It really works live - shame that they're not touring the new album.  Jack White seems to have upped his game on the drums and Dean Fertita makes a barebones riff fill the sonic space.The video looks simple, but there's a lot going on - watch Alison's doppleganger. And why is the mysterious Madonna figure crouched over a Fender amp and not the more usual manger?

I love the video effect that makes bright white shine black, like an old Image Orthicon tube camera on some beloved old black and white show that boasted all the happening beat combos.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Speaking Birb

So a friend turned me on to an article that said, in part, that teen girls are the real driver of language change. Shakespeare, not so much. Teen girls are were it's at. They make the modifications to language.
It takes about a generation for the language patterns started among young women to jump over to men. Uptalk, for example, which is associated with Valley Girls in the 1970s, is found among young men today. In other words, women learn language from their peers; men learn it from their mothers.
The new language then misses a generation. The new words are passed on to the babies of the original girls.

So, I thought, if this is true, then Lolcat (2007) must have millions of young speakers. They learned it natively from 2007, making the youngest native speakers eight, and a large number of pidgin speakers between eight and fifteen. So what language are the teenage Lolcat speakers using?

It turns out the predictions are correct. Young people raised on Lolcat are modifying their native Lolcat speech and speaking Birb.  It's even less like English than Lolcat. I can speak Birb easily enough, since I follow @ProBirdRights but its corollary  Rate-my-reptile is a little tough to parse at first.

No problem. I can read it and sometimes write it. On the other hand, there are millions of people out there who purport to write English but don't know the difference between "lay" and "lie", which pisses me off a lot more.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Skrillex Academy (video)

Hilarious parody of the Whiplash trailer, focusing on the travails of a recruit in the Skrillex Academy. And I *like* EDM.

Here's the original for reference.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Kills - Live in Detroit 2015-08-01 (Video, HD)

Thanks to uploader VideoGremmie, seven songs from the Kills show from last week, in Detroit at the St Andrews Hall.

Details: THE KILLS perform U R A Fever and Future Starts Slow to open up their concert at Saint Andrew's Hall in DETROIT on SAT August 1, 2015. Shot in high definition in AVCHD mode using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 using 'P' mode in ISO 3200 with 1/60 min shutter speed.

He or she is in a good position in the audience as well, and has great sound levels. 

Fully recommended!

Edit: 7 songs, not the whole show.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Why Live Nation gets all your money

If you have a million dollars to invest, this Kramer segment will delight you. If, on the other hand, you want to go to concerts, this will explain why you have to pay a shitload nowadays and yet not quite get what you want. It's refreshing to hear CEO Michael Rapino explain how and why they charge for everything, and why they need to own every festival.

By "refreshing" I mean it's a call to action. Short watch, high payoff for this video.

Also it's funny to hear the tremble in Rapino's voice as he's obviously unused to being broadcast.

John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin in Simon Napier Bell documentary

Here from swinging, fab and cool London is a 1966 excerpt from a doco about Simon Napier Bell, one of the quintessential British music managers/movers&shakers.


It's a scant minute and a half, but manages to include a shot of John Paul Jones (of Led Zeppelin fame) in a soundproof booth at 33 seconds, and a shot of Big Jim Sullivan (with a beard) a few seconds later.

Tune is Endlessly Friendlessly Blue by Rory Fellowes.

Watching this, it's almost like being in happening London when it was happening!

Saturday, August 01, 2015


This is the Trelawny, my Veiled Chameleon.

When he has nothing else to do, he blesses his surrounding with this "Live Long and Prosper" hand-signal he does.

I bought him from a pet store (which is not recommended, but I did) as he was half-price due to "growing too fast to be sold as a baby".  He was four months old, so now he's about six months old and is still growing fast.

He has more personality than all my other lizards put together, and it's sometimes hard to remember he's only six months old. He's explored much of the house, and agitates early on in the morning to get out of his cage and go and explore.

It's not true that chameleons change color to match their surroundings (although they can do brighter and duller versions of their colors - the photo above is "average" for Trelawny).  However, they can change shape drastically. Above he's very thin and tall, like a tropical fish.  He can also do long and skinny, "look at me I'm a leaf" and a couple of other shapes.

Here he is sitting on his ladder in the window, admiring the trees outside.

And here he is at a slightly younger age, with the characteristic curly tail.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hugo Vote ends shortly

I've done my voting for the Hugos.

I'm not going to put my votes here as I'm not a fan of slates, and even though the readership of this blog is infinitesimal, it could be construed as such. However, I will say that, as promised, I did put each puppy nominee below "no award". If I thought they were not worthy of consideration at all I left them off entirely. There were some non-puppy nominees that got below "no award" too. I'm thinking it wasn't a bumper year for science fiction. The novels, dramatic presentations and Campbells (not a Hugo) were a pretty good selection, though. Plenty of good reading there.

Here's where to find each nominee in your voter's packet, if you have one. And if you haven't got one, better hurry! Voting ends on July 31st.


I'm still vaguely wondering if I can make it up to Spokane so I can go to the business meeting. It's still a possibility.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Generation Jones

At long last, I learn I'm not a "Baby Boomer" after all. I'm a member of Generation Jones, a sort of mini-post-boomer generation. Not named after Greatest Generation's Bob Dylan's Mr. Jones, who did not know what's happening, but apparently named after the fact we're "jonesing" after the success of the older boomers, which we were destined never to emulate. Boomers, who are people born from 1946 to 1964, comprise a huge and silly group of people.  Splitting them into real boomers and people like me makes sense.

I left college after ten years of industrial unrest, directly into Thatcher's first term.  The West literally collapsed into neo-liberalism the day I graduated from college. I've always hated being lumped in with the people who went to Woodstock, merely on the basis of a handy label, and now I have an even more handy label to get out of it. I'm Generation Jones, someone born from 1954 to 1965, or as some people say, born from 1957 to 1965.

Suits me. However uncomplimentary All The Young Dudes is, it's our anthem.

Video: The Kinks in Swinging London

"Are you a boy or a girl?" is a refrain that's accompanied my life. Here's a video of the Kinks suffering the same inquisition, in Swinging London.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lyle's Golden Syrup - Out of strength came forth sweetness

Had a wonderful day out yesterday with a couple of friends I hadn't seen in quite some time.  One of them, C, had a couple of questions she must have been burning to ask me: "Why are you called Lyle?" and "Someone gifted me a can of Golden Syrup. What is it for?"  Strangely enough, the answers are related.

The two cans of treacle pictured above are from my own pantry. One is just a couple of years past its use-by date and the other is a good decade old. So it's not that treacle gets a great deal of use in the Hopwood Household, but they do get used eventually. (I've just read the back of one and it says to discard after the date on the can, but I think I'll ignore that. What could possibly happen to treacle, which Google says is,

British term for molasses.
cloying sentimentality or flattery.
"enough of this treacle—let's get back to business"

and Wikipedia, more correctly, defines as:

Treacle is any uncrystallised syrup made during the refining of sugar. The most common forms of treacle are golden syrup, a pale variety, and a darker variety known as black treacle. Black treacle, or molasses, has a distinctively strong, slightly bitter flavour, and a richer colour than golden syrup.)

Treacle is a key ingredient in Yorkshire's national food, Parkin. (It's also a key ingredient in Yorkshire's other national food, treacle toffee.) The BBC have a recipe for Parkin on their cooking page, which I haven't tried but looks about right.  Parkin (and Treacle Toffee) are eaten on Bonfire Night, which C  (who is American) guessed is the day after Christmas when you break down all the cardboard boxes.  It's actually New Year's Day, November 5th, when English people throw red and gold fake banknotes into the river Thames for the spirits of our ancestors so they can pay their afterlife expenses. When you're American, though, as I am now, you can eat it on any day.  And you can use black molasses since getting black treacle requires a co-conspirator in the UK. British people weigh ingredients (except for sub-teaspoonful amounts) instead of messing with 1/4 cups and 1/2 flagons and 2 1/2 sticks and so on but you get used to it. And 140C is 285F. 

BBC Yorkshire Parkin recipe
110g soft butter
110g soft dark brown sugar
55g black treacle
200g golden syrup
225g medium oatmeals
110g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground mixed spice
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 tbsp milk
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 140C/120C fan/Gas Mark 1. Grease and line a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin.
In a pan, over a gentle heat, melt the butter, sugar, treacle and golden syrup. Don't allow the mixture to get too hot or bubble. When they have melted together remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl sift in the dry ingredients and make a well in the centre. Gradually add the melted butter mixture and fold together. Pour in the beaten eggs and milk and combine together.
Pour into your baking tin. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, however keep an eye on it as parkin can easily become dry and over baked.
Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 20 minutes. Tip onto a cake rack and leave to cool completely.
Store the parkin in a cake tin and wrapped in greaseproof paper. You must keep it in a tin for a minimum of 1 day and up to a week before you cut it. Leaving it to develop will give it a moist and sticky texture, as well as making the flavour richer and deeper.
I first came across treacle in the book Alice In Wonderland, which has a riff on treacle that I memorized as a kid, but here I have used the modern version of memorization, ctrl-c ctrl-v. The Hatter is describing his poor relationship with Time:

'And ever since that,' the Hatter went on in a mournful tone, 'he won't do a thing I ask! It's always six o'clock now.' 
A bright idea came into Alice's head. 'Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?' she asked.
'Yes, that's it,' said the Hatter with a sigh: 'it's always tea-time, and we've no time to wash the things between whiles.'
'Then you keep moving round, I suppose?' said Alice.
'Exactly so,' said the Hatter: 'as the things get used up.'
'But what happens when you come to the beginning again?' Alice ventured to ask.
'Suppose we change the subject,' the March Hare interrupted, yawning. 'I'm getting tired of this. I vote the young lady tells us a story.'
'I'm afraid I don't know one,' said Alice, rather alarmed at the proposal.
'Then the Dormouse shall!' they both cried. 'Wake up, Dormouse!' And they pinched it on both sides at once.
The Dormouse slowly opened his eyes. 'I wasn't asleep,' he said in a hoarse, feeble voice: 'I heard every word you fellows were saying.'
'Tell us a story!' said the March Hare.
'Yes, please do!' pleaded Alice.
'And be quick about it,' added the Hatter, 'or you'll be asleep again before it's done.'
'Once upon a time there were three little sisters,' the Dormouse began in a great hurry; 'and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well—'
'What did they live on?' said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.
'They lived on treacle,' said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.
'They couldn't have done that, you know,' Alice gently remarked; 'they'd have been ill.'
'So they were,' said the Dormouse; 'very ill.'
Alice tried to fancy to herself what such an extraordinary ways of living would be like, but it puzzled her too much, so she went on: 'But why did they live at the bottom of a well?'
'Take some more tea,' the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
'I've had nothing yet,' Alice replied in an offended tone, 'so I can't take more.'
'You mean you can't take less,' said the Hatter: 'it's very easy to take more than nothing.'
'Nobody asked your opinion,' said Alice.
'Who's making personal remarks now?' the Hatter asked triumphantly.
Alice did not quite know what to say to this: so she helped herself to some tea and bread-and-butter, and then turned to the Dormouse, and repeated her question. 'Why did they live at the bottom of a well?'
The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, 'It was a treacle-well.'
'There's no such thing!' Alice was beginning very angrily, but the Hatter and the March Hare went 'Sh! sh!' and the Dormouse sulkily remarked, 'If you can't be civil, you'd better finish the story for yourself.'
'No, please go on!' Alice said very humbly; 'I won't interrupt again. I dare say there may be one.'
'One, indeed!' said the Dormouse indignantly. However, he consented to go on. 'And so these three little sisters—they were learning to draw, you know—'
'What did they draw?' said Alice, quite forgetting her promise.
'Treacle,' said the Dormouse, without considering at all this time.
'I want a clean cup,' interrupted the Hatter: 'let's all move one place on.'
He moved on as he spoke, and the Dormouse followed him: the March Hare moved into the Dormouse's place, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change: and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk-jug into his plate.
Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously: 'But I don't understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?'
'You can draw water out of a water-well,' said the Hatter; 'so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well—eh, stupid?'
'But they were in the well,' Alice said to the Dormouse, not choosing to notice this last remark.
'Of course they were', said the Dormouse; '—well in.'
This answer so confused poor Alice, that she let the Dormouse go on for some time without interrupting it.
'They were learning to draw,' the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; 'and they drew all manner of things—everything that begins with an M—'
'Why with an M?' said Alice.
'Why not?' said the March Hare.
Alice was silent.
The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: '—that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness—you know you say things are "much of a muchness"—did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?'
'Really, now you ask me,' said Alice, very much confused, 'I don't think—'
'Then you shouldn't talk,' said the Hatter.
This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot.
'At any rate I'll never go there again!' said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. 'It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life.'
The treacle well is apparently in Binsey, Oxfordshire. The things you learn while blogging.

For "Out of strength came forth sweetness" see Judges 14 and the story of Samson's wife. Trigger warning - like many bible passages it contains sex, violence, sexual violence, death and bees.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pop Will Eat Itself Kick a Hole in the Speakers

One reason why I don't get mad when I'm rickrolled is because I quite like Rick Astley.

I know many people loathed him, including my beloved Pop Will Eat Itself. But Rick, pay them no mind. You're ok.

PWEI with full hate on.  Astley's in the noose, hang loose kid.

They were my favorite band in the late 80s to early 90s.

Superworm tip

Ever been afraid to give a big, lively, scary superworm to a little, slow gecko? Drop the worm in mango juice and it'll be dead in 30 seconds.  Even if you fish it out and try to clean it.

I admit I found this out totally by accident and was slightly pissed at myself before I realized Fatty the Geico Day Gecko might still eat it, which he did with gusto, relish, and mango juice.

Robert Palmer, Lowell George and The Meters

Northern Soul: Robert Palmer was from my home town in Yorkshire. He doesn't sound like it; he sounds like he's from New Orleans. In this case it's because he's backed by The Meters, with the unmistakable sound of Lowell George (of Little Feat) on slide guitar.

This startling album opener consists of Sailin' Shoes, Hey Julia  and Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley. My hometown has never been as funky (and never has been since).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The intersection of Beyoncé and Bioinformatics - modification by dissent

A friend brought up this article on the "evolution" of popular music. Scientists' revolutionary findings on pop music.

I think most of us are at least a little bit aware of the arguments about cladistics, and how DNA sequencing has revolutionized it into ever more argumentative factions, and given the above I would imagine that proudly declaring you've proved scientifically that there were only 3 new varieties of American pop introduced after the 1950s, namely:
1. The British Invasion, 
2. The Eurythmics
3. Hip-Hop

- would be at least a little bit contentious. (Though I can easily imagine this as three populations of animals - R&B, gated snare, and poetry-over-drumbeat-with-no-melody, so he's not entirely wrong.)

Anyway, the bit I like is that the semi-literate journalist makes a number of mistakes, my favorite being "It's the process that Darwin spoke about, modification by dissent [..]"

Ah, yes, the famous Darwinian theory of modification by dissent. I know it well. (It's actually "descent with modification by means of natural selection".)

I read a little bit more about Armand Leroi and he's worked with Brian Eno and generally seems to know a bit about music and a lot about evolutionary biology. Comparing sequences of DNA - or even phenotypical traits -  to make a "map" of where creatures fall in terms of similarities is a fairly common thing in biology, and he's using the same type of maths to look at short sequences of music, which seems like it might be a reasonable thing to do, in theory.

What does it all mean? 

I doubt if his results "mean" anything concrete as obviously, unlike genes, today's music landscape isn't literally descended from chunks of previous music that have been sorted and then sent off into the wild to be naturally selected. I can see that a map of popular music since 1960 could be drawn as British Invasion R&B, gated snare and synthesizer 80s pop, and the no.melody-kick.drum-sample-poetry music of today, but it's certainly not the way I would have described it before reading the piece - and looking at the vast list of assumptions in his paper, there's probably 10,000 different equally "mathematical" ways to draw the map.

Still you can't fault a scientific paper where the caption to Figure 1 is "Data processing pipeline illustrated with a segment of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, 1975, one of the few Hot 100 hits to feature an astrophysicist on lead guitar."

Here's his original paper. Beware: math

Han Solo, shooting first, in the original Star Wars cut

Just for youngsters, i.e. anyone under thirty-five, here is a clip from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, showing that Han shot first, and indeed was the only one to shoot, because he hit Greedo, obviously, and there was no return fire. (Thanks to uploader Daniel M Kobayashi.)

Whenever this one comes up, there's always a few people who don't care who shot first. They don't care that Greedo (in the Special Editions) missed at point blank range, and they don't care that Han waited for him to shoot first, a non-survival trait that really seems out of character for him as we first meet him.

As far as I'm concerned, Han not only did, but must have, shot first because he thinks only of himself - which he continues to do for some time.  That's why he's an interesting character. When he starts thinking of others, and even helping other people for free, that's when you know the character has grown.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

In an impassioned argument against the proposal for a Hugo for "Sagas", a professional SF writer writes:

"Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

I don't know whether that fantastic image makes me more likely to buy their work or less.

I've been thinking about the phrase to throw someone under the bus recently, as it was used approximately 16,993 times in the discussions about publisher Tor's open letter disavowing Irene Gallo's Facebook comment, which, since it referred to her by name, was widely considered to be throwing her under the bus.

To throw (someone) under the bus is an idiomatic phrase in American English meaning to sacrifice a friend or ally for selfish reasons. It is typically used to describe a self-defensive disavowal and severance of a previously-friendly relationship when the relation becomes controversial or unpopular. (Wikipedia)
But what bus? Does it refer to the enemy's bus, in order to slow it down, or provide a sacrifice for it? Or does it refer to our own bus, and if so, why would we want to throw one of our own under it?

It turns out nobody knows. It's quite a new phrase, apparently coming to prominence in politics in 2008, and probably not more than 20 years older than its first citation.

The first times that phrases like it were used, they were more of the form "it's better to tour in the bus than under the bus", a reference, I think, to travelling with the rock stars (or sports stars) on the bus versus travelling in the luggage compartment under the bus.  Cyndi Lauper's name often comes up with this non-thrown usage.

When it comes to being thrown under, rather than just being under, the bus, it's even more modern and the range of possible origins is huge. Is it a reference to being sacrificed to a juggernaut as opposed to making the sacrifice yourself? Is it true that Vietnamese women used to throw newborn babies under a bus in order to collect insurance payments from Americans? (Ecch. I hope not.)  Does it owe its origin to a debate in the New Zealand parliament, where it was discussed how to provide for someone's dependents should they fall under a bus? Is it really from The Trolley Problem, where a psychological subject is told that a trolley is on a track that will kill an entire family, and is asked if he would be prepared to throw a diversion lever that would save the family by sending the trolley down a different track where it would kill a single person?

Or was it all from a Charles Bukowski book?:

In Septuagenarian Stew (The Life of a Bum), published in 1990, the Charles Bukowski character Harry pushed his friend Monk in front of a bus, and then stole Monk's wallet while Monk lay unconscious and probably dying in the street. After taking the wallet, Harry went directly to a bar and, using Monk's money, bought himself two double whiskeys. Later, Harry went to the Groton Steak House and, again using Monk's money, bought two beers and two Porterhouse steaks with fries ("go easy on the grease"). (Explanation by Thursagen.)

I don't know. But I love the phrase "Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Water lily blossom

I bought a bare-root water lily back in March. I didn't have much hope for it, as commercial bulbs of exotic plants in my estimation always tend to the condition of Venus Fly Traps - i.e. dead within six months. However this one has thrived, or perhaps thriven. It's in a pot with clay soil in it, and yes, I do give it aquatic plant fertilizer, which has turned the entire "pond" a fetching shade of algae-green.

Still, it's a pretty lily, and it's been flowering for a while now.

(The tiny fish are the ones the Vector Control people hand out - mosquito fish, or Gambys, which eat the mosquito larvae. If you're in California and you don't have any Gambys in your pond, call Animal Control or Vector Control for your county. They're free and they're nicer than getting giant swollen mosquito bites, West Nile Virus etc.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Johnny Pneumonic

I'm not surprised to see this - 'pneumonic' for 'mnemonic' - as the people at work all pronounced it that way.  (In a health care setting, and for all I know elsewhere, people have to learn keyboard shortcuts for lengthy technical terms, and the IT word for these short cuts is 'mnemonics'.)

I pronounce the p-one nyooooMONick and the mn-one nimMONick, but at the lab, both were noooMONick. That was in So Cal. The writer of the page imaged below is from London, so maybe I'm just wrong and they're both the first one.

Anyway, since it is a medical term, a story about Johnny Pneumonic would be pretty interesting. Johnny Mnemonic was about a data courier, Johnny, who has to transport double his standard 160 gigabytes of data in his brain implant to a customer in order to be given a cure for his nerve disease, whereupon Japanese gangsters get into the act. Mnemonic is from the word for the Greek personification of memory, the Titan Mnemosyne. It means to aid the memory, in particular a sequence of letters or images that help you remember.  It was originally a short story by William Gibson, and made into a movie starring Keanu Reeves which I quite liked, although it was roundly panned.

'Pneumonic' just means 'pertaining to the lungs' originally from pneuma, which can either mean vital spark or breath of life, or just breath, or air, for short, and eventually refers to a 'lung'. (Not to be confused with pneumatic, which means something filled with or operated by compressed air, unless you're reading Brave New World, in which case it means bootylicious, except when describing the chairs.)

The most frequent use of the word pneumonic is in Pneumonic Plague. This is caused by the same bacterium as Black Plague or Bubonic Plague, but instead of infecting the lymphatic system (and causing it to come up in lumps, or buboes) it infects the lungs. Because it can be coughed out by the infected and inhaled by those around, it is far more infectious than flea-spread Black Plague and more virulent. At least until antibiotics were developed, it had a kill rate of close to 100%. As antibiotics fail over the next couple of decades, it could make a comeback.

If Johnny Pneumonic were to be hired to carry airborne plague across the globe, it would make a fine short story. (As 12 Monkeys already did, in fact.) You could tell Johnny he'd been infected with the cure for cancer. He'd never know the difference, at least until it was too late.

Octopus adorabilis, the adorable octopus

This isn't a Dumbo octopus - it's ears are smaller, for a start. (Dumbo octopuses are of the genus Grimpoteuthis, and this one is of the genus Opistthoteutis.) But it is at least as cute as a Dumbo, so cute in fact that Stephanie Bush of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, who is describing it for the literature, suggested calling it "adorabilis", the adorable octopus.

All octopuses are adorable, though.

Bob Thiele & The Forest Rangers - “Trying To Believe (ft. Alison Mosshart)” (Official Music Video)

Alison Mosshart with Bob Thiele & The Forest Rangers or rather the other way round, but I'm a Mosshart fan first, with "Trying To Believe".

This is a seriously gnarly video (so intense I had to close my eyes a couple of times) with actors from Sons of Anarchy -  Mark Boone, Jr. (Bobby Munson), Niko Nicotera (Ratboy), Dayton Callie (Wayne Unser), and Michael Ornstein (Chucky) - comprising a Russian Roulette game with Alison and Bob Thiele. The song's pretty good too. I love Alison's smoky voice.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lyle Hopwood's 115th dream (at least)

I dreamed I was back at college, surrounded by the usual cadre of odd friends and hangers on. There were a few instances of my normal dream tropes – for example, at one point we had to avoid zany Japanese killers who could apparently hide in tiny boxes which were cunningly set into the floor – but a lot of it was normal college.

I really wanted to go an hour long lecture on artificial life starting at 11 am, but to get in, you needed to show a commemorative coin issued by the university. I didn't have mine with me and had to go back to my rooms (while my friend went into the lecture, with my coffee) to search for it. For some reason I had all of my valuable coin collection outside my rooms in the cupboard in the corridor. I had my friends search the rooms while I looked through the cupboard. Eventually I found a coin (though I wasn't sure it was the right one) and went back to the lecture. It was ten to twelve, the talk was over and no-one even looked at my coin as I walked in. My coffee had gone cold and my friend said I could have another cup from the buffet table, if no one had seen me come in. But they had seen me come in.

So I went to the bar instead. My friends were there. I had that odd dream feeling that I didn't really know them well and they would leave me if I wasn't entertaining. I proposed we should all go to the local good restaurant, Jan, and I'd pay. We got to Jan. They had big red-cover menus with a pasted-on front plate. The place had used to be called Japan but they'd shortened the name because that's modern. We ordered, but it turned out there was a Yakuza hit on the place. The servers disappeared and the fight didn't end until one of the gangsters saw me and collapsed in fright. Apparently I'm a big cheese in Dream Yakuza-land.

There was something I'd recently found out that I wanted to tell my friends. I remember telling two separate groups of them during the dream, but only remember one time clearly. It was some sort of prank day, like April the 1st, except I remember clearly it was August, and we watched people fill a Camaro with pies, and other people order ten courses of a gourmet meal to be delivered to a public telephone. I told my friends that I'd completed my first year at college, but had never taken any of the exams. This didn't upset them much; I suppose it happens to a lot of people. Then I said I'd been going to classes all this (second) year, and had just realized that I'd never been sent a course brochure. I wasn't enrolled in any classes! It hadn't made any difference to my attendance, as I suppose they were used to people auditing classes, and anyway I had my commemorative coin, when I could find it. So I'd been going to lectures for months, having completely forgotten I hadn't received any communication from the college and was almost certainly not a student. We were walking back past the Camaro at this time and everyone agreed the pie joke was funny. The public call box and the gourmet meal, not so funny, they said. A lot of people had found the food and were eating it, though, which wasn't true of the pie-filled Camaro.

When I woke up, as I became aware again, I remembered I'm retired, so in a way I'm really auditing a course I'm not enrolled in. Spooky.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stealth reading for the Hugos

Yes, I should be writing more reviews of Hugo-nominated works.

I don't feel like doing so, though. I had to take a break after the first batch just to find out what the hell John C Wright was going on about. I've read around the subject enough to get a clearer picture, but I feel like I've chased the equivalent of Cicada 3301 - or maybe Tony the Tiger's coupon clipping scheme - as far as I can.

The latest was learning (via Camestros Felapton, and don't ask me where exactly, as that rabbit hole is a thousand feet deep) that when Tybalt the talking cat in One Bright Star to Guide Them tells the protagonist to strike his (Tybalt the cat's) head from his body, there's an antecedent. And no, it's not Jesus's sacrifice. Even VD who shall not be named assumed it was, but no. It's a reference to folklore. (That passage is on page 57 of Ursula K Le Guin's The Language of the Night in my paperback copy.)

"Our instinct, in other words, is not  blind. The animal does not reason, but it sees. And it acts with certainty; it acts "rightly", appropriately. [...]There is often a queer twist to this in folktales, a kind of final secret. The helpful animal, often a horse or a wolf, says to the hero, "When you have done such-and-so with my help, then you must kill me, cut off my head." And the hero must trust his animal guide so wholly that he is willing to do so. Apparently the meaning of this is that when you have followed the animal instincts far enough then they must be sacrificed, so that the true self, the whole person, may step forth from the body of the animal, reborn."

It's a word-for-word plodding reference to it, in fact, which makes me think even less of John C Wright than before. It's like a box he checked off.

It's also hard reviewing these things as File 770 is scouring the web for content and when they do pick up one of your pieces, hoo boy beware the flood of hits. I will have loved what they were doing in 2025 but right now it's a bit irritating.

In the meantime, I did start other Hugo stories and books. None of them has grabbed me, though. Instead I reached into the To Be Read (TBR) pile and started on Mythago Wood - now there's a good story. Even though I don't like it, I want to finish it. I'll be back to the Hugos later.


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