The Den of Ubiquity

Tuesday, October 30, 2001:

Put That Up Your Wall

I guess I'm a sucker for computer game nostalgia. I've been picking up Apple ][ disk images(some from, but others off BearShare)of games I used to play, and even some Coleco ones. Most of them the novelty value wears off after a while--it didn't take me long to finish all three levels of Hard Hat Mack, to get bored of The Bilestoad, or to get frustrated with Dino Eggs. (I cracked the Bilestoad level-password scheme years ago, and probably still have it somewhere.) A lot of Apple games just don't seem to have the balance right; they have too high a level of randomness. I kept getting creamed by pirates in Taipan. Wizardry is always fun for a little while, but boring after a while. (I died instantly the time I tried Wizardry IV, the Return of Werdna one.) But I did complete Pirate Apventure, one of those text adventure games; I know there's another apventure around somewhere, which I never completed. I never got very far in Advent either.

But anyway, last night I played Odyssey again for the first time in years. That was one I found on BearShare. I played that a lot, and it had the added bonus of being a Basic program, so the source code was right there. In one of those low-memory system tricks, they didn't include code to initialize all the variables; what they did was initialize them once and then save a binary copy of the variable buffer, which they then reloaded. Pretty nifty.

In Odyssey, you are basically a group of men wandering around on this island, trying to recruit more men and get enough Quadroons to buy a ship and leave it. You also have to get a bunch of various types of items, like armor and weapons to defend yourself and various kinds of gear to help you surmount obstacles on the island and later. It took me a long time to get past this stage, but once you do that, you get to sail to other islands trying to get an Orb. This part can be very frustrating, when the wind is against you, or your last set of sails is destroyed by pterodactyls, or(most frustrating of all)the fog rolls in and doesn't leave for twenty minutes. If you get to the other islands, you can go into a cavern adventure trying to find the Orb and keep from getting killed by Frenzies. (You can dig tunnels with shovels, I think...) You can also run into a triton-like creature in the ocean whose name I forget, who will tell you the location of a sunken Orb if you give him the right gift. Once you have the Orb, you go to the final island, where you have to surmount various obstacles which rely on you having the right set of equipment, and then you win the game.

It's got primitive graphics, little storyline, and is at the mercy of randomness, but I played it last night and it's still pretty fun.

I also found copies of all the Leisure-Suit Larry games; we'll see how they held up.

There's pigeony-looking birds on my windowsill right now, checking out the territory. Well, at least they're not flying into the windows and leaving birdprints on them anymore. (I'm not kidding; you can still see them.)

My advice to anyone who's in a band and is not the lead singer is, never let them name it after themselves. If possible, don't even let them put their name in there anywhere. I mean, "Sade" and "PJ Harvey" are supposedly bands, but I bet you there's nothing the band can do to stop them recording solo under the same name.

But then, lead singers almost always go solo. As someone once said, Mick Jagger records solo and it still sounds sort of like the Rolling Stones because he can find a guitarist who sounds like Keith Richards. But Keith Richards records solo, can he find a vocalist who sounds like Mick Jagger? So he's forced to adopt a different sound. Also, lead vocalists are often lyricists, and the lyrics are often considered more important the music(which, as I might have said, is a point of view I don't agree with), so the lead singer should be able to make do without the rest of the band.

Still working on my study on sexual composition of bands. I don't think it's a particularly controversial statement that the vast majority of bands is still all-male. There's a very tiny number of all-female, which usually trumpet the fact so it's hard to miss them. And there's quite a few with one female vocalist and the rest of the band all male. At some point I'll have at least a partial version up on my web page, so people can comment on it. (So far the search engines don't seem to have found my new pages yet, which probably explains why emails about my song title duplication list, now my #1 source of email from strangers, has died off recently. Well, I did submit it to a few engines yesterday...)

I have a sort of collection of music guides, or at least "rock" music guides. It's such a vague term, but what else is there that would include, say, Leonard Cohen, They Might Be Giants, the Stone Roses, Christine Lavin, REM, ABBA, and InXS? It verges into "pop" and "alternative", I know, but since I go to both sides I want something that covers the middle.

I enjoyed reading The Spin Alternative Record Guide, but I heartily disagree with most of it that I've tried. I just don't get the appeal of punk, so practically anything punk-derived is lost on me--Hüsker Dü, no-wave, lo-fi, L7, or what-have-you. I like melody, I don't like noise, and that's all there is to it. And a lot of the weirder stuff I'm not so keen on either--Henry Cow, for instance, or Can. Ween I like, and of course TMBG; I like Shriekback a lot better than what I've heard of Gang of Four(though I've never found "Entertainment!"); "Rattle & Hum" is one of my favourite U2 albums, and "Fables of The Reconstruction" one of my favourite REM.

My biggest problem with them is probably the fact that a lot of their POV is based on neophilia--liking something because it's different. I've seen what this leads to--a band coming out with their first album which is lauded and praised for being something new and unique, and then their second album being panned for sounding the same as their first. (This happens with movies too--witness the swiftly-passing vogues for David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino.) Me, I don't take this point of view. If I like the music, it's because I like the music, not because it's groundbreaking. If one band comes out with a sound I like, and fifteen other bands all start to copy it, then I might like all sixteen of them. That's just the way I am.

I might have mentioned my enjoyment of and near-total disagreement with Robert Christgau. What I really like my music guides for are factual and historical details about the bands, and maybe a vague idea as to what they might sound like. But what I really want, sometime, is a review book(or website, would work better)where there was the factual information, and then several people reviewed the band and the album. They would have to have varying tastes, so you could pick which one you were most likely to agree with. I seem to recall hearing that Playboy reviews albums like that, where each of their reviewers at least gets to rate each album reviewed by anybody in that issue. I mean, even people who are intimately familiar with a given band's oeuvre are not necessarily going to agree on which albums are better, and the album that an aficionado considers a piece of dreck, someone else might like while being unable to stand the rest of their catalogue.

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't been doing as many of my mini-album-reviews lately in my blog. That's true, I haven't. I don't always feel moved to write them. This is why I would never make a professional reviewer, because after a while I begin to feel like I don't have any idea what to write that doesn't sound totally generic. Like I've said before, I'm not that good at dancing about architecture.

But just to appease you: so far today, InXS's "Shabooh Shoobah", which I barely noticed, as well as most of Icehouse's "Primitive Man", ditto(apart from the two singles, "Hey Little Girl" and "Great Southern Land"). Then James's "Seven", which is growing on me(notable song this listen: "Sound"); I really need to pick up "Laid" sometime and check out more of their catalogue. Now I'm onto Clannad's "Macalla"(what are they doing these days, I wonder?), which I seem to recall mostly liking, though none of it is particularly outstanding.

Aaron // 11:43 a.m. Clix me!

An Iron Fist In A Glove Full of Vaseline

We've been getting a number of children's books from the library for Simon, and what I find most interesting is when I'm reading him a book and suddenly realize that I read that book when I was a kid, though I only remember a tiny bit of it. For instance, Curious George Gets A Medal, I don't remember him going up in the rocket, but I remember him spilling the ink, trying to soak it up with the blotter, and then pouring the soap powder on it and getting a bunch of lather. I also remember quite distinctly that I had no idea what lather was at the time, or a blotter(though those were probably obsolete by that time anyway). Similarly, I was surprised to discover that Amelia Bedelia was that book where the woman drew a picture of the curtains when told to "draw the drapes", and "put the lights out" on a clothesline. I would almost have expected to remember that she made lemon meringue pie as well, since I love lemon meringue pie, but that's not as clear. (Simon calls it "pie book".)

There was one book I read as a slightly older kid, from the school library or something, that I've never managed to find again. It was a baseball book, which I probably read because someone had shown us one of those TV shows where someone read the first chapter while someone else illustrated a scene in front of the screen. The facts I remember are these: The main character was a boy who found a baseball glove that said "Tad" inside it(the first time I encountered that as a name), blacked it out and kept it for himself. He later met Tad and they became friends, until a moment during the climactic game when he told Tad about his glove. If anyone out there has any idea what book this might be, let me know.

The snow hasn't quite gone yet, and it's been hovering around freezing for a week anyway. There was frost on the non-snow-covered grass this morning, though at least since we have a carport our car windows don't fog up. I didn't realize it would trap so much heat, but I only ever have to scrape the frost off the windows when leaving work.

This winter we have to remember to store the barbecue properly. We didn't last year, and it looked pretty grotty this year. It's a pain to disassemble and reassemble, though. I still don't feel quite safe with a propane barbecue, but I reassure myself by saying that there are a lot of morons and cretins out there barbecuing, and you don't hear stories about backyard immolations every day, so it can't be that dangerous.

I'm learning all about Java Server Pages(JSP) at work, and it looks interesting. I should check to see if I would be able to use something like that on my web site; I could bring the Random Band Name Server back up, since Reilly Leibhard doesn't seem to have done it yet. At least, if he has he hasn't told me about it.

Aaron // 9:31 a.m. Clix me!

Thursday, October 25, 2001:

Sometimes The Clothes Do Not Make The Man

We had our first snow of the season here on Monday, which is not unusual for Edmonton. In Grande Prairie, Halloween(or is that Hallowe'en?)without snow was unusual, but that's a little bit further north and a little closer to the mountains. I remember a year in G.P. where July was the only entirely snow-free month. Though, admittedly, the June and August snowfalls barely even hit the ground. And then there was the Christmas where all the snow melted and then the temperature plunged to -30C, so it was freezing but totally devoid of snow.

Of course, the first couple of days of snow are always bad driving days. I didn't have too much trouble on Monday, but Tuesday I was half an hour late getting to work...the traffic was just moving that slowly. No accidents or anything, although I did have to stop for a guy who had done a U-turn when he had meant to do a left turn, so that he could back off the traffic island and onto the street to continue on his way.

For a long time I've had thoughts about innocence and maturity gestating inside me. I'm not sure if they're ready to come out yet, but here's a few:

It seems to me that innocence is just a form of ignorance. It's an ignorance of the fact that the world is not unfair in one's favour and that other people can sometimes have goals at conflict with one's own. It is also an ignorance of the possibility that others can intend malice toward oneself, which is really a subcategory of the latter item above. It is revered as an attribute of childhood, and regarded as a tragedy when it is lost, but what is the alternative to losing one's innocence?

To remain innocent you would have to either live in a world that was unfair in your favour, and with nobody in conflict with you, or never encounter information to the contrary. (Or, possibly, to be incapable of retaining such information, so when your ignorance returned, so would your innocence.) That sounds a little impractical even for a utopia, unless everyone got to live in their own little holodeck-world populated by unreal beings whose motivations they could program at will.

Admittedly, there are levels of innocence, and not all of them need to be lost. We can perhaps safely remain ignorant of many forms of unfairness and malice that we are unlikely to encounter, or that few people would agree should be tolerated. But in a world where they nonetheless exist, ignorance of them means being unprepared to encounter them. We know that serial killers exists, as well as terrorists, forest fires, earth-grazing asteroids, drive-by shootings, and racial intolerance. While you can't spend every minute of every day remembering these things without driving yourself into a state of depression, you can't utterly ignore them either. You have to take them into account in some way in living your life.

Aaron // 3:04 p.m. Clix me!

Friday, October 19, 2001:

Jezebel In Hell

I think it was someone else's blog that recommended Poe's album "Haunted", so whoever it is, thank you, I'm enjoying it immensely. I liked her first album too, though it's been a while since I listened to it(from the library).

I seem to be finished with "Separate Tables" now, but it feels odd. Since I didn't go through to the last night's, there's not a real sense of closure. And I didn't really get to know many of the actors--one I knew from "Ivanov", and two more I did eventually introduce myself to. But it was a far cry from the socialization after "Don't Dress For Dinner", where I only ran lights but got to know the cast members pretty well.

Maybe it's another difference between Walterdale & GPLT. The Grande Prairie theatre, Second Street Theatre, has a bar built right in, so people who enjoy socializing over drinks can just stay right there...which is mostly what we did. Whereas with Walterdale, people have to go out, and then run the risk of going to one of those bars where you can't hear the goddamn person next to you if they're shouting in your ear. I can't stand that kind of place. But then, if I'm going to be sociable, I'd like to actually talk to people. Not that there isn't an attraction to sitting alone in a party and soaking up the ambience, but maybe that's just an excuse for not having the courage to talk to people I don't know.

Anyway, last night we had actual complementary tickets to go see the play, and Nicole's cousin Shirlene agreed to babysit, so we dropped Simon off at her place and then eventually headed toward the theatre. Too late, as it turned out. Silly us, to think that going from the northeast corner of the city to the south-centre would take less time than going from southeast corner to northeast corner. So we got there at 8:15, but they let us in anyway. I'd seen the play a few times, so I could bring my wife up to speed. And it was better seeing it at ground level, without having to hear the sound either faintly through the plexiglass window of the lighting booth, or in one ear through the headset from the mike suspended above the stage. But all told, it's an OK play but not spectacular. "Don't Dress For Dinner" was unapologetically a farce, but it was something very easy to sit through twelve times.

And Ramona, the stage manager who was running sound on the nights I wasn't there, screwed up at least one of the sound cues. Somewhat gratifying, I must admit.

Aaron // 2:20 p.m. Clix me!

The Sin of Spiritual Pride

Another post lost to Blogger...well, here it goes again.

I've always wondered why Sunday is still supposed to be considered the first day of the week. It never has seemed to me, and only gradually over the years did I come to realize that that was why it was always in the first column on calendar. But everywhere else...

First of all, Sunday is supposed to be the "day of rest", right? Well, in that old Genesis creation story, that was the seventh day...not the first. (Okay, I know that Muslims, and Jews, and Seventh-Day Adventists, and a few others, look at things differently, but I'll ignore that here for the sake of rhetoric. No offense.) Second, we speak of a "weekend", not "weekends", as we would if Saturday was at the end of the week and Sunday at the beginning. Thirdly, most people don't feel a bit transition between Saturday and Sunday, as from one week to the next...but they do between Sunday and Monday.

So I hereby proclaim that Monday is the first day of the week, all those calendars are misleading, and everybody can go on happily with their lives.

The seven-day week is just an arbitrary invention foisted on us by the ancient Babylonians anyway. I'd have to reread that Isaac Asimov essay to find out exactly why, but there's nothing sacred about it, honest. How would things work if we had a six-day week? Four works days and then a weekend? Or a longer week, for that matter? But nobody would be able to agree on that. Six-day weeks would make us less productive; eight-day weeks would give us less free time. But who's to say that we're at the magic balance point right now anyway? It's just what we're used to, nothing more.

One nice thing about living in an oil-producing province is that we're cushioned a little bit from the oil price fluctuations. Or, rather, when the price of oil goes up, then we do have to pay for more our natural gas heating and the gas for our cars, but the economy also goes up, and the provincial government gets richer, so there's more money around anyway. When the price of oil goes down, then at least we go back to low gas prices. We were up to above 70 cents a litre(anyone who wants to convert it into American dollars per gallon, go ahead)a while ago, after a slow climb from closer to 50, and now we're back down to the 50's. (Aside: who was it who decided that the "cents" symbol would not be part of the basic ASCII set? Why?)

What's strange right now, though is that you'll have a gas station that has a big sign advertising "56.9 cents/litre", and then a smaller sign beneath it saying "3.5 cents/litre off at the pump!" Why hide your discount like that? Are they counting on people's bad math skills, like the whole "$199.99" thing to try to fool people into thinking it's much cheaper than $200? Do they just not have permission to change the price on the big sign, but do have the permission to give a discount? It doesn't make no sense to me nohow.

I was looking at another blog recently where a couple of guys were doing a list of their 250 favourite songs. I immediately thought this sounded like a good idea, especially since for the past few years I've been making up tapes of my favourite songs from my vast collection. I haven't counted them yet, though, so I don't know if I have 250 yet, and I would need to sort them all, but expect something like that coming in the not-too-distant future. I know you can't wait.

Aaron // 9:44 a.m. Clix me!

Wednesday, October 17, 2001:

Has The Elephant Had Any Water?

As I continue to read Atlas Shrugged, I notice that I am pretty much the sort of person that Ayn Rand would hate. Not one of those people who are only concerned with emotions, surfaces, appearances, and social interactions, but someone who does not think that working, building, and accomplishing are the be-alls and end-alls of existence. Maybe a little bit of Francisco d'Anconia, who did everything that he tried easily and effortlessly(ah, but I flatter myself), and has seemingly been driven by this lack of challenge into mind-numbing boredom. (Or so it seems now, but it's too early to he in league with the mysterious John Galt?)

Aaron // 10:20 a.m. Clix me!

Tuesday, October 16, 2001:

A Power So Great It Can Only Be Used For Good Or Evil

I was just listening to some Rachmaninoff("Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances" is what I wrote on the tape)in one of my sporadic ventures into "classical" music. It was interesting how, when I listened to it, I kept thinking it was a movie soundtrack, like "Close Encounters" or something. But that's most of the instrumental music people listen to these days, is accompanying movies. Actually, once or twice it even sounded like music from a Warner Bros. cartoon. Maybe Carl Stalling borrowed from it once. Actually, a lot of classical music I know from cartoons...

Also have started reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Yeah, I figured, "why not?" I actually borrowed it from my stepfather about eight years ago, and am just getting around to it. Not even a tenth of the way through yet, which is usually my first-day minimum goal...and I started it yesterday. So far it seems interesting enough, but a bit heavy-handed with Rand's Objectivist message, and she seems to be setting up more than a few strawmen. (I thought it was funny that yesterday I saw a
Bob The Angry Flower cartoon parodying AS... sort of like the Kofi Annan thing.)

Man, Blogger's being flaky today...but at least our local network is working, not like last week(in case my faithful fan base is wondering why I posted so little).

Aaron // 3:30 p.m. Clix me!

Sharks In The Penthouse

I was listening to Kirsty MacColl's "Galore" collection this afternoon, and got to wondering about what she's been doing these days. I've only been intermittently aware of her--I remember her collaborations with the Pogues, of course, her cover version of "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby" on the "She's Having A Baby" soundtrack, some of her work with Billy Bragg, and the song "Walking Down Madison"; I do have a copy of "Titanic Days" around somewhere, and noticed that some of the most striking songs on "Galore" were from that album. Obviously, I haven't been paying attention.

And just to show how little I've been paying attention, when I go on the web to check her out, I discover that she died in a boating accident some time ago. Now I'm filled with that funny feeling you get of suddenly discovering the loss of someone you didn't know that well in the first place. It affected me more than, say, Aaliyah's death, since I never listened to her at all, or any other musician's death I can recall in recent years, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because her music was more vibrant and alive than, say, Kurt Cobain's. (Yes, I know that will probably be misconstrued; I like some of Nirvana's music, but you can't say that it's peppy, positive, and life-affirming.) I'd have to say, though, that a lot of her songs are not ones that really strike me, at least pre-"Electric Landlady". So I can't think of her as an unappreciate musical genius, either. I don't know what I'm trying to say, so maybe I should stop here...

Aaron // 2:41 p.m. Clix me!

Monday, October 15, 2001:

Empty Chairs At Empty Tables

Finished the big weekend of "Separate Tables"; Ramona, the Stage Manager, thought it would be better if I did it in one block, rather than alternating nights, as I had originally intended. It worked out best for me to Thursday through Sunday and then Tuesday. That way I get two weeknights, two weekend days, and then one weeknight again. So far, so good. I hope she'll be okay on Wednesday when I'm not there, running the sound by herself. It's not a real sound-heavy play, apart from a flurry of sound effects near the beginning of "Act Two". (It's really two one-act plays with some common characters and setting, but I can't bring myself to say "Play Two" like the others.)

Let me put in a plug here for
Bob The Angry Flower, a most excellent cartoon, and probably one of the few to feature recent Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan in a recurring role. Warning: will sometimes warp your brain.

And speaking of Kofi Annan, he also sort of popped up a few months ago in Cerebus(well, Paul "Coffee" Annan, to be precise). There's an interesting comic book for you. It's gone through a lot in its 270-odd issues, from epic fantasy satire to political humour to feminism-bashing to eloquent defenses of misogyny to tributes to Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. It's getting near the 300-issue mark, when Dave Sim says the series will be complete, and Cerebus is moving into a state of acceptance and possibly even Enlightenment amid being tormented by the Three Wise Guys(who look a lot like Stooges to me). It's pretty much the only comic I read right now. I do like the Hernandez brothers' Love & Rockets when it comes out, which is irregularly, and while I have been following the adventures of Tim Hunter(from The Books of Magic, etc.), my interest is starting to fall off.

I used to read tons of comics, mostly Marvel, and I still enjoy the classic X-Men stuff. I stopped buying it(and most other comics)in the Mutant Massacre days, but I've started picking up some of those issues anyway, deciding that the decline was not as sudden as I remembered. I still think that the Marvel world was going through too many upheavals, and was generally losing coherence, but maybe it was the whole "Secret Wars II" thing and the periodic crossover frenzy that that inspired that really annoyed me.

I really wasn't a big superhero comic fan as much as I was a SF/fantasy comic fan. I loved Silver Surfer(once he got off Earth) and Dr. Strange(which led me to buy The Defenders as well), the Micronauts(especially the New Voyages, which were amazing), even Star Wars and Rom Spaceknight. And after I moved out of my Marvel phase, I still read Silver Surfer, but thanks be to Troy Lessoway(sp?), who introduced me to Watchmen and Grimjack, and also, indirectly, to Cerebus. Grimjack was a wonderful book as well, science fiction and fantasy intermingling in every issue, as well as a bit of hard-boiled detective/mercenary. Then there was Dreadstar, an SF outing from Jim Starlin that was a bit predictable at times, but still fun. (I still am not quite sure why, when I liked Silver Surfer under Steve Englehart, and Dreadstar under Starlin, Silver Surfer under Starlin should have sucked so badly. But it did.) And of course Sandman was fantastic as well.

But yeah, I'm not as much into comics these days. I'm more into story than art, so that leaves out whole levels of appreciation for me sometimes. And I just can't get into the superhero comics these days, or all the endless tie-ins. In the end, it's another thing where there's probably lots of stuff I would like, but I can't be bothered to find it all. Books & music still reign supreme.

Aaron // 2:16 p.m. Clix me!

Wednesday, October 10, 2001:

Twisting In The Wind

Was just listening to "Hello, I Must Be Going" by Phil Collins. I always forget that there are some good songs on that album, mostly at the beginning. I keep remembering that awful "You Can't Hurry Love"...but the first four songs on Side One (remember when albums had sides, people?)are pretty strong. Side Two is okay, nothing special. Also listened to Neil Finn's "Try Whistling This", which I still haven't heard enough to really get a handle on it yet, but it sounds good; better than the last Crowded House album, in some ways.

Some of you may be wondering--why do you listen to an album you think is awful, and not to one to think is good? Well, let's remember that I'm compulsive here, and work from there, with a little bit of my musical history thrown in.

As a kid, I listened to whatever was around. I liked ABBA, and got some of their tapes for myself; I also listened to my brother's Queen albums, and the collection of musical soundtracks that my parents had. Then there was Weird Al Yankovic, and Styx's "Kilroy Was Here". I was vaguely aware of such songs(mostly from early video shows)as "Don't You Want Me", "Centerfold", and "Like A Virgin"; I also watched Solid Gold, where I heard things like "Billie Jean", "Time After Time", and "Rosanna". All early 80's, in case you don't recognize the titles. When I went down to Arizona for a summer in '84, I was exposed to a bit more through my roommates, mostly Duran Duran, though I also recall "When Doves Cry".

Then, in February '85, we moved, and got MuchMusic, the Canadian video channel, on cable. I became aware of a lot more, most of it without context at first. (I still almost tend to think of '84/'85 as some kind of musical watershed, which of course it is not on anything but a personal level.) The first tape I bought might have been "The Language of Attraction" by Animotion, still a source of nostalgia; Duran Duran's "Rio" came shortly afterward.

When my brother graduated that year and moved out, I took over the basement and discovered that I could get MuchMusic on the stereo as well, so I spent a lot of time listening to it. In no time at all I was accumulating "Assorted" tapes recorded off Much, and buying even more. (Other early purchases include the Power Station album, and Tears For Fears' "Songs From The Big Chair", the latter of which is still an all-time favourite.) And my tape collection grew and grew.

So I had to figure out how to listen to them. When I first had just a few, I would listen to them "in order"--that is, in the order I had them in my tapecase. I kept this up until I had a few tapecases, but eventually I got tired of listening to things in the same order, even though I would sometimes go forward, sometimes backward, scrambling the order of the tapecases, etc. Being a big fan of randomness, I quickly hit upon the solution: I would listen to them in random order.

This was distinct, in my mind, from picking tapes at random and listening to them. Even then I had the inkling that if you had 100 items, it would take much more than 100 random picks before you had picked each one of them at least once. And I didn't want to have some tape that never got listened to because it never got picked. So what I would do is take the list of 100 tapes(or however many I had)and scramble it. I would listen to each of my tapes once, but in random order. Then I would make another, usually longer, list and scramble it. (My collection was, as I said, constantly growing, so often I would leave slots in my random ordering for new insertions, up to a point.)

This is still basically what I do today, though I have gone through in sequence once or twice, and sometimes play around with the precise process of randomization. But the goal is still to listen to everything once before listening to them again. Many of my older tapes are starting to die, possibly because it can take a year or two between listens these days, and the shoddy material most prerecorded tapes are made from lose their tension and just generally go either scrapy or muffled. (Are there technical terms for the different ways tapes can degenerate?) Some I have replaced(I actually have "Rio" on CD now), some I have managed to salvage before they deteriorated too badly.

But the principle does result in my usually not listening to albums I really like any more often than those I don't. I've been making tapes of favourite songs that cycle a bit more quickly, since those are the ones I listen to in the car going to and from work, but new albums can take a long time before I get to know them. Still, it does help sometimes with albums I don't originally like, and would skip if I consciously picked what I listened to next. The Jam's "Setting Songs" comes immediately to mind. My tastes do change over time.

On the other hand, I often go for quantity over quality in expanding my collection, so there is a certain amount of dreck that I have not yet bothered to eliminate.

Aaron // 11:59 a.m. Clix me!

Thursday, October 04, 2001:

Ain't That Peculiar

Just noticed that this "Knitting On The Roof" CD has the World Trade Centre on the cover. So it's probably been pulled off of record store shelves...:-)

Apparently, in the time since I chose "The Den of Ubiquity" for my web-page name, "ubiquity" has become a computer buzzword. I remember doing a web search on it a few years ago, and there wasn't much. Now it's in all sorts of computer magazine articles. It's something every software company wants, I guess--to be everywhere.

If there is a silver lining in the cloud that is 911(or The Fall of the Towers, if you prefer--I still can't decide), I am hoping that it will be the decline and fall of Reality TV. Admittedly, I have not watched a single minute of it(if you don't count horrified fascination at the opening of "Who Wants To Marry A Multimillionaire?"), but in general I think it's a stupid idea. In general, I think that ordinary people are not worth watching on TV being themselves--why I don't watch talk shows either--so either it's banal or it's not real, but it's pretending to be real. I'm sure this is also another manifestation of my tendency to dig in my heels when something I'm not interested in to start with is urged on me, either directly or just by being popular. (I almost said "ubiquitous"...) It happened with Deep Space Nine, it happened with X-Files, and it happened with reality TV. Give me my sci-fi any day.

Usage rule: "sci-fi", pronounced "skiffy", refers to movies and television with aliens and/or spaceships in them; "SF" is "speculative fiction", which is science fiction, fantasy, supernatural horror, magic realism, and--what was it?--"impossiblist" fiction. Some skiffy is SF--Babylon 5 and The Matrix come to mind--but most is just skiffy. True SF only comes in book form. Does this make me a snob? Perhaps...but skiffy generally uses plots, characters, and ideas that are decades old in science fiction. Even cutting edge science has usually been anticipated by somebody in SF long before it's mainstream enough to be used in skiffy. The reasons for this, of course, have to do with the fact that you can put length explanations in a book, but on a screen you can cover up recycled story with state-of-the-art special effects. And there are virtues in being able to see things directly without having to interpret them through your mind's eye. That's probably why the appeal of TV and movies is so visceral--the images bypass the verbal parts of the brain and go directly through visual processing. And humans have been visual animals long before they were literate ones.

Aaron // 3:25 p.m. Clix me!

Thrown Back In The Sea

Saw the special 911 episode of The West Wing last night, and I think that Sorkin & the folks did a bang-up job. I'm sure that with some time there could've been a bit more plot and a bit less lecture, but the lecture was interesting and insightful, and the plot bit with Leo interrogating the innocent Muslim man was affecting. Everything was pretty true to the characters, which I'd hope Sorkin could pull off by this time, but nice to see. Still, next week, back to the timeline, which will also be good.

In the intro, they said Donna was getting a, most true viewers of the show are probably rooting for Josh & Donna, problematic as thought could be career-wise. (Still, sleeping with one's secretary is a time-honoured practice...:-) But this might leave things open for Josh & Joey Lucas, except that last season that didn't seem to be going anyway. She's a great character, though, and Marlee Matlin is great. And it must be nice to have a steady job for a deaf actress...

Then there's Sam, of course, who started out with Laurie the callgirl/lawyer, dated Leo's daughter Mallory a few times, and now seems to be sparking a little bit with Ainsley. I'll vote for Ainsley, as a much more interesting character. I was hoping she'd be moved into the credits this year, but I guess not yet. We might end up seeing more of Oliver Platt. (Hmmm...can Ainsley take over that position? Probably nowhere near qualified yet.) I'd also like to see more of that intern who had actually read all of the reports financed by the government. They could use someone like her.

But in the main the West Wingers seem to be job-obsessed over relationship-obsessed. Only Zoe & Charlie have had a real relationship on the show(not counting the President & First Lady, of course); C.J. & Danny had a little bit, but since he refused to give up the White House reporting, I think she's ended that. Toby & Leo are both divorced. And also in the intro it said "A marriage is in trouble", which is disturbing because there is only one marriage on the show, the Bartlets. So the White House career ruins another marriage...

Still, it's better than Boston Public. Last I heard, another teacher had had an affair with a student, bringing the total to three. (Even if one of them was only a kiss...) Grow up, people.

The new Star Trek series is off to the usual stellar(no pun intended)start. I guess you just have to give them a season to get up to speed. (I didn't give that much to Deep Space 9, I admit...) I'm annoyed, though, that the TV Guide gave so much space to them and failed to mention that Andromeda was coming back at all. We finally checked it out last weekend, and found out that we'd missed the season premiere, part two of last season's cliffhanger. At least on one channel...the American and Canadian channels that show it have been out of sync before, so we should try the American one to see if we can catch it there. Or at least tape it, since we'll be out of town his weekend.

For you Americans out there, this is Canadian Thanksgiving coming up. It's a bit earlier probably because our crops have to be harvested a little bit earlier. My wife's parents finished their harvest already a few days ago, but not everyone else has. It is a Monday rather than a Thursday, too, which means we don't get a four-day weekend--second Monday of the month, so this year, on the 8th, it's as early as it gets.

My schedule for the next couple of weeks could be interesting, since I've ended up volunteering to help run the sound board for the latest production at
Walterdale Theatre, "Separate Tables". I've been meaning to go out for an audition this season, but this one didn't sound like it had any parts in the right range, so I didn't bother. I'm not crazy about the Walterdale performance schedule: At Grande Prairie Little Theatre, we did three weeks of performance, Thursday-Friday-Saturday with a preview on the first Wednesday. At Walterdale, they do W-T-F-S-S one week, then T-W-T-F-S the next, which is quite grueling. But I'm only doing some of the shows, so hopefully it won't be quite as bad. And now my wife has said she would strongly prefer if I didn't do another play right away...

We would've been leaving tomorrow early for Grande Prairie, but that's when the tech rehearsal is, so I kinda have to be there for that. And these things always run late. Oh, well, that's theatre for you.

Recent library CD listens: Last night I listened to Andrea Koziol's "Mission: Bliss"; she's another Canadian chanteuse, who for some reason I was expecting to be more like Chantal Kreviazuk(maybe it's the Slavic-sounding surnames...). She was mostly a little more subdued, thought she did have a few uptempo tracks. I put it on my "to-buy" list, since it sounded okay and I would probably get into it more with repeated listens. Today I tried Giant Sand's "Chore of Enchantment", and was mostly unimpressed--either too low-key or too harsh--and Latin Playboys(apparently an alter ego for Los Lobos)' self-titled album, which was okay but a bit murky and hard to pick out individual songs. I'm about to try "Knitting On The Roof", a "Fiddler On..." tribute album--sounded bizarre enough to be worth a try. (Negativland doing "Tevye's Dream" and The Residents doing "Matchmaker" should be weird...Jill Sobule may do a really good "Sunrise, Sunset", which is possibly my favourite song from the show....)

Reading volume three of the Legends anthology, of short novels by various fantasy authors. Mostly got it for the Robert Jordan one, "New Spring", but I did enjoy the Ursula Le Guin one, "Dragonfly", too. (Even if the ending was a little bit she's-done-this-before...) Still got a Tad Williams and a Terry Pratchett one left. I recently read Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, the first Hannibal Lecter one, which I hear they are currently filming. It was pretty good, even though the killer was the strongest-delineated character in the book. The investigator, Will Graham, wasn't quite a cipher but pretty close.

Listening to the actual "Knitting On The Roof", it's a bit disappointing. I guess the problem is that it's a record label thing, with "Knitting Factory" recording artists participating. Few of them are vocal, and so you get a lot of instrumental versions, and instrumentalists being what they are, many of them are practically unrecognizable. The Residents' "Matchmaker" sounded like they took a few liberties with the lyrics, but that was okay. The Jill Sobule song was extremely low-key, which was disappointing; Come's version of "Do You Love Me?" was done as a low-quality telephone conversation. Oh, well, I've got the original soundtrack, or the Captain Tractor version of "If I Were A Rich Man", at least.

Aaron // 3:01 p.m. Clix me!

On The Brink of Trouble Again

On the cover of the Rolling Stone...("Gonna see my picture on the cover...gonna buy five copies for my mother...")I saw a much better solution to the catchy-name-for-the-terrorist-attack problem. 911. It's the date, and it's an emergency. It may not have the dramatic weight, though. Still, it's a solid contender. It may seem a bit superficial to keep trying to come up with a name, but who hasn't been talking about 911 and had to fumble with words to get across the topic. Admittedly, it's a topic near the front of most people's minds right now, so people will know what you mean without you having to state it explicitly, but I'm an INTP and I like expression to be precise. "I know what you mean" is not good enough if what you said is ambiguous in the first place.

Drives my wife crazy.

Aaron // 12:19 p.m. Clix me!

Tuesday, October 02, 2001:

A Tale Told By An Idiot

Just recently finished Jim Munroe's Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask, a very nice little slice-of-life Generation-X story which features two characters who happen to have superpowers. In other words, it more or less lives up to its title. On the back cover it's described as "impossiblist" fiction, which seems to me a way of describing speculative fiction which doesn't bring that whole sordid genre of Sci-Fi and Fantasy into it. Because you know that "skiffy" isn't literature, so you have to come up with another way of saying it. Bunch of crap. Or maybe whoever wrote the back cover blurb just didn't know any other word for it. We can be charitable and assume that.

I guess I'm not a very literary guy. I don't read a book on more than one level, usually. Any symbolism I notice is usually hit-you-over-the-head unsubtle. I don't think that character names should be symbolic of their entire personality. Heck, many band names aren't indicative of the band's music, so why should people who don't get to pick their own names be so fully described? It's just a literary conceit. I've been known to select the names of characters in my stories entirely at random, although even then I have to watch and make sure that my subconscious doesn't make Mrs. Coldfield into a frigid bitch. Sometimes I think I should write the whole thing with generic placeholder names and then do a search-and-replace afterwards. I'd also love to do a story where name and gender were all mixed up, like Sequoyah's syllabary used Roman letters with no idea of the sound associated with them. So some guys are named John and Reuben, and some are named Mary and Jennifer. The problem with all that stuff is that it's disorienting to readers, and that pushes them out of the story as they go back and reread, but dammit it should be done.

Sometimes I feel like I should be like one of the Oulipo, the literary group who wrote stories more like puzzles. Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, which consists of the first chapters of several different books interspersed with second-person narration. Georges Perec's La Disparition(translated into English as A Null), where he didn't use the letter E. Milorad Pavic's The Dictionary of The Khazars, where the story is separated out into encyclopedia subheadings, and then arranged in alphabetical order and by religion. But I don't know if I have it in me to join a literary movement.

Still, I believe that the plot structure of books and stories is artificial, because real life doesn't begin and end so cleanly. It resonates with something in the human psyche, though, something hardwired into our brains, perhaps. Maybe that's the whole point of Zen enlightenment, realizing that the universe doesn't have a plot.

And I believe it doesn't. James Alan Gardner wrote a story once called "Muffin Explains Teleology To The World At Large"(or is it "Universe At Large"?), which is where I discovered that teleology is a handy word for the idea that the universe has a purpose, is heading toward a specific goal. That's what I don't believe. As trite and geeky-college-boy as it might be to quote Rush lyrics, Neil Peart said it best: "Why are we here? Because we're here. Roll the bones."

Most people believe in a purpose, because, again, there is something in our brains that seems to want that. We've got some hardwired circuitry that specializes in trying to explain why things happen, but if it's not given the right data or enough of it, it comes up with all sorts of answers, that we believe because they come from our brain. It was millennia before anyone came up with Garbage In--Garbage Out, I imagine.

So we can't just accept that things happen randomly and without purpose. We're used to dealing with human beings, who do have motivations for their actions, so we personify nature, grant it motivations, subdivide it into more than one creature, the way I hear young children are supposed to separate their parents into "good" and "bad" versions until they can come to terms with the same person being able to play with them and punish them at different times. (And if they never come to terms with that, then what you have is a psychopath who can perceive people as good and evil at the same time.)

And death is so scary that everybody has to make themselves believe that it's not the end of life, because that is inconceivable. Almost every human culture(and I'm just hedging with the "almost" there)has believed in life after death, but that doesn't mean any of them are right. It just means that it's difficult to believe otherwise. It's not part of our animal brain, I don't think, but it's something that many people have to believe in order to function.

Isaac Asimov, in his essay collection "Science, Numbers & I"(one of my favourites, but maybe that's just because it's the first of his I read)had an essay called "Knock Plastic!" in which he dissected a number of "security beliefs". I didn't realize it for some time, because these beliefs were phrased in very general terms, probably on purpose, but practically religious belief goes into one of these security beliefs.

If you haven't gathered by now, I'm an atheist. I don't believe that it's impossible for religion to have good points--I think a lot of the words attributed to Jesus Christ make good sense--but I don't believe in any of them. The Old Testament(which is a little bit deprecated sometimes among modern Christians anyway, I've always thought)is Judaic mythology, and no more necessarily true than Norse or Greek, although it probably contains a little bit more real history than those. The New Testament--well, the Nativity is, I'm sure, retconned after the fact to match the Old Testament prophecies as much as possible. And how long after the fact were the Gospels written?

I was thinking of trying to figure out how to put up those "comments" links on my blog pages, but now I guess I'm going to get a lot of "Your'e going to HELL!!!1!" messages, so I might leave that off for now.

Aaron // 11:18 a.m. Clix me!

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