Sunday, January 18, 2015


Sunset tonight was curved, so for a moment, it looked like we were on a moon of a big, banded, gas giant.

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Like this one. Jupiter (upside down).

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Courtesy NASA.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Road Worrier update

Alas, the famous twin lampposts of San Juan Capistrano are no more.

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They used to look like this.

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Which I think was a much better effect.

On the other hand, the unbelievable acreage of road that has been produced here is actually quite useful, as instead of going through the center of town at 1 mph, I can zip up the 75 new lanes, turn left a bit and be home in seconds. It was worth the $70 million or whatever.

On another note, I went on foot to McDonalds to take this picture and had to go past some 16 year old douchebucket who mocked the way I walked as I went past. This makes him literally the third person of American origin I've met who has acted like a total shitweasel. Since I've met tens of thousands, I can confidently say Americans are generally saints compared with English people. That makes American world policing and domestic policing so hard to understand - everyone's so nice in person but collectively they're somewhere between "kill it with fire" and "nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure" when it comes to security.*

*Not that Brits are any less punitive, but at least you know that's how we are as soon as you meet more than three of us.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Get It On, T. Rex (video)

Excellent T. Rex Bang a Gong (Get It On) performance.

The sound has suffered a little from  multiple generations, but perhaps you could sync your pristine vinyl with the excellent video.
The exact provenance of the video isn't known, according to the Youtube uploader.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pheasant plucking's done

RIP Lance Percival.

I recently watched as much sixties British satirical comedy as I could find, including some TW3 (That Was The Week That Was) and John Lancelot Blades Percival was one of the greats.

His schtick was to ask for a phrase, place or event from the audience and then make it into an instant calypso.  I saw him live once, and he asked the audience for an occupation. A man shouted out "pheasant plucker" and without missing a beat, literally, Lance sang:

I am a pheasant plucker
I'm a pheasant plucker's son
And I won't stop pheasant plucking
Till the pheasant plucking's done

Which I can't even type out without making the obvious error. It probably wasn't original even then, but in (I'm guessing) 1965 it's a pretty brave thing to attempt in front of a live audience.  I'm having difficulty fitting it to a calypso beat, but I was about seven when I heard it - there may be more syllables in there that I've forgotten.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Get out me car!

This is the funniest thing ever. I don't know why; I can't explain it. Maybe it's that she has the same accent as me. Maybe it's because she says, "Nooo!" in the same accent and tone of voice I pretend my geckos have when I ask them questions. ("Would you like a beer?" "Nooo, coz I'm a gecko.")

Whatever, it has me in stitches. Unfortunately I couldn't find the original vine, so this only plays once. You have to hit replay at least four or five times to get the right effect.

It's remarkable how inventive people are at making art when given new tools. Only 140 characters allowed on Twitter? In a couple of months people were writing novels and haiku on it. And Vine, which gives you only five seconds of video gives rise to this - two perfectly ordinary people coming up with a play of transcendent multiple meanings in a natural rhythm, in one tiny snippet.

"I'm in ma Mum's car. Broom! Broom!"*
"Get out me car!"

I'm not kidding, it's like a little slice of the Odyssey there.

*I would have spelled those engine revs as "Brum! Brum!" like I did as a kid, but the internet has spoken.

Monday, December 08, 2014

San Juan Capistrano - the Road Worrier

My town is undergoing a major upheaval for reasons I haven't quite fathomed yet - it's demolishing the freeway access (to the I5) and the bridge over the freeway, in order to build about 67 more lanes of freeway access and about twice as much bridge.

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A crow is watching from the world famous Twin Streetlights 
of McDonalds.

The redevelopment has ripped out the buildings and trees that were center of the town - luckily the major business in the area, a motel and restaurant, fled years ago - and replaced it with acres and acres of asphalt, as far as the eye can see. It's not finished yet - we're currently in the era of major road closures and the consequent traffic issues - but we walked through the area yesterday to see how it was going. I don't have my own pictures as you can't really get a good idea of what's going on from ground level, so here are OCTA's own pictures from this site.

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Old interchanges

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Proposed (rendering)

The dead area of asphalt that makes up the traffic interchange is just huge on the west (bottom of each picture) side, and it looks like the one on the east (top) is going to be just as large. There's also now a weird clawhammer-shaped thingy to the right of the west interchange. That is a gigantic plain of asphalt surrounding a Del Taco. The fast-food joint now has the highest elevation in the district as well as about 94 lanes of traffic heading straight for it. It's quite amazing up close. (In the top photo, you can see another fast food restaurant used to be at the top of the hill near the road - this was closed down and demolished to make way.)

The building that you can see next to the clawhammer of the Del Taco is a McDonald's. They've been planning to modernize it for years, the city finally granted them permission to do so, and it's just being rebuilt right now. According to the workers, it's McDonald's job to do the flood abatement from being downhill - they said they're putting in a giant storage tank for runoff water. McDonalds also had to make room for a "loop", which is apparently city-speak for if you get lost in the drive-in and have to go back around, you have to be given room to do it on McDonalds' property, to discourage lost and angry people driving on to Del Obispo Street and back into the Micky D's.

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OCTA's plan and Micky D's plan don't seem to quite line up, so we get this lovely pair of twin streetlights. Perhaps they'll become a tourist attraction?

Yes, there are a lot of fast food restaurants on Del Obispo. There's also a Carl's Junior and a Marie Callenders.  One - Arby's I think - disappeared above Del Taco, there was another one - I think a Jack in the Box - that was off to the right of the pictures above. There was a Burger King as well. The Taco Bell is still there, one of those all-you-can-stuff-down-your-neck places that I liked, Sizzler's, disappeared years ago and is now an auto parts store, and on the other side of the freeway, my fave rave Denny's was wiped out. RIP Denny's :(

We locals used to call it Cholesterol Alley, but now it's more Asphalt Parkway.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Had Me A Real Good Time - The Faces (Ian McLagan and Bobby Keys)

Goodbye Bobby Keys and Ian McLagan, gone within 24 hours of each other.

Thanks for all the music I guess, but so sad you had to leave it behind.

Children of the Revolution - T. Rex

Here's a lovely T. Rex video of Children of the Revolution in 1973.

The uploader, Dylan White, doesn't have information on how or when it was made, but he uses the occasion to say we should check out the DVD The Final Word, which I certainly shall. I had not heard of it before now. Love the greens in this video - Marc's green blouse, Bill Legend's green fronted whatever-you-call-that, and of course Mickey Finn's green hat. Mickey has also mixed his seventies' green and orange in the correct proportions, whereas Marc's orange trousers are a bit much.  I used to think that these great colors were from using natural dyes like what people did back in the day, but thinking about it, 1972 was probably a hotbed of the most artificial dyes ever, so these were probably made from organophosphate and mustard gas. Still, lovely colors.

The uploader isn't keen on Marc's makeup, but I have to say he appears to have invented contouring. Look at those imitation Toby Tyler-era cheekbones!

While we're here, here's Get It On (Bang A Gong). Look at his little girls' shoes! And my mum made me a jacket exactly like that one except it was in pollen yellow, not pink. And Tony Visconti, if the adults of the time had realized what that guitar sound did to little girls, you would have been arrested. :p

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

White Bicycles by Joe Boyd (book, 2006) review

After jumping out of John Lennon's car, I walked down to Abbey Road studios on my way to record The Pretty Things and who should pass by but Margaret Trudeau, the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister.  She offered me a lift in her private plane as she was flying off to see Mick and Keith. Who should be on the back of the plane but The Byrds who said they were between managers. I said that was lucky, I was between bands to manage, so I managed the Byrds starting that Saturday. One day a month later I was offered the job as the head of Biggo-Vastola Records and I said to the Byrds, I said, I have to take this lads. They were all sad about it as they'd just recorded Eight Miles High and thought it would be a hit. It went platinum five minutes after I left in Ringo Starr's biplane piloted by Hilly Kristal but that's the breaks. We had only just landed when Bob Dylan and Albert Grossman came round and asked if they could join Fairport Convention. "Sorry, I had to stop producing Fairport records three minutes ago," I said and they were all dejected. Luckily Nick Drake and John Martyn were outside, waving through the window for me to go for a drink with them, so I did...

That's not actually an excerpt from Joe Boyd's White Bicycles, but it's pretty damn close.

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I bought the book because it was subtitled 'making music in the 1960's' and all I knew of Joe Boyd was that he'd managed the UFO club in Swinging London. Alas, suckered again, because like Rob Young's Electric Eden it's actually about the Great Folk Scare. It's another chance to read about what Pete Seeger said or didn't say to Albert Grossman about Bob Dylan's electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where all of that happened. (For the record, Joe Boyd does not agree with the chopping-the-cable-with-the-axe story.) It's a lot shorter, though, and Joe Boyd really did know absolutely everybody who was everybody, from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee to Pete Townshend and literally everybody in between. There is more about the Incredible String Band and Danny Thompson, than about Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols, though, but there must be no one else in the world who has worked with so many people - from Dudu Pukwana to Reverend Gary Davis - nor anyone who was in the thick of it for so long. It's fascinating stuff.

He's not Boswell, so I found there was quite a lot of starting an incredible anecdote about someone - Hendrix, or Devon Wilson - and then going into the next anecdote. After a while you realize the first anecdote isn't going to peak. Maybe he'll get back to it, but maybe he won't. The only one I remember actually coming to a punchline was the story about the Incredible String Band, who get left behind talking to a waiter in California, and later get picked up again having learned something from the waiter Our Gracious Host was not happy they had learned.

I needed to know some deeper things about the Summer of Love for my NaNoWriMo novel, and I wanted to check a few opinions about folk music for it, which this book amply supplied. It mentions Mick Farren, who mentioned Joe Boyd a couple of times, a couple of times. They're not very complimentary, but Swinging London was a complicated time. Boyd dates the Sixties as stretching from the Summer of 1956, peaking on 1st July 1967 and ending in October of 1973. And I'd agree with him, before and after reading the book.

NaNo's over, but the book isn't

I did "win" NaNoWriMo for 2014 - finishing with just over 50,000 words in 30 days. It's not actually that much in terms of output - typing at 30 words per minute (i.e. how fast I can type if I'm thinking rather than copy typing) your daily ration of 1,670 words should take less than an hour. In practice, it never took less than two hours because "thinking", having yet another cup of coffee or crossing out a paragraph and writing it again with different characters or the same characters in a different mood always tended to happen on a regular basis.

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The majority of the writing was simple enough. I took the first two days to write a 2,000 word synopsis that expanded to a 3,000 word synopsis by the end of the month, and did one major reorganization in the middle when I realized that the division into 9 sections (flashbacks alternating with the present day) had shorter sections at the beginning than at the end, a sort of reverse speeding-up-like-Stairway-To-Heaven that would drag everything down at the end. (Or, of course immerse every reader more fully towards the end and make them think the whole experience had been that deep - but you can't second guess everything.) Making it into 11 sections solved that problem, meant that I could add 1976 (one of my favorite years) to the mix and delay the denouement for a little while which may (or may not, but  see above) create a bit of tension about how it is all going to turn out.

Fifty thousand words actually only comes to section 8, so three are still to be written. A fair amount of the beginning sections are of the type, "and then he got really lucky and so this happened and then that happened", which obviously need to be expanded - so there's probably thirty thousand words yet to go. Then of course, comes the editing and polishing, which can take between one read-through and the rest of your life, depending on what sort of writer you are.

One part of a middle section is completely unwritten, with just a placeholder under the chapter heading, because I honestly don't know what happened to that character at that time. Hopefully it will become clearer before I have to write the rest.

One great thing about taking a run at it, as you're forced to do given the time limit, is that you can probably remember what you were thinking and why you were thinking for the majority of the writing. I had a synopsis, but they aren't much use for details - obviously if they were detailed, they'd take as long to write as the actual text. For example, if you last saw your main characters in a bar, wrote a different scene and then went back to the bar, you have to remember some important details - what the bar was called, the time of day, who was there, how many drinks they'd had, what mood they were in, whether you'd mentioned the brass kettles on the walls already or not. A couple of times I had that continuity problem you occasionally see in movies where one character's drink moves from one hand to another between shots, and also the type you get in books alone, where somebody becomes dismarried all of a sudden or his wife's name changes from Rita to Consuela and back over the course of a few chapters.

There are special word processors designed to get over this type of issue. I own one, and can't remember what it's called because I don't use it very often. As with making a synopsis that is complete, filling up a database of characters, names, ages, likes, dislikes, times of day, amount of action in the scene, amount of emotion in the scene, whether the emotion is getting higher or ebbing away in that scene and so on takes longer than writing the book, though it's perfectly possible that if you do it correctly, the software then just writes the book for you. I've never got it to that stage to find out if it does.

Ah! It's called Power Structure - I went to look at its box. It's very very powerful but as I say, filling it up seems to be the hard part. A number of writers, including professional writers, swear by Scrivener, which doesn't cost a lot and seems to do most of the things Power Structure does. Once again, though, is the learning curve harder than actually writing the novel? (I'm sure the first person to not bother to learn Excel is very happy with his calculator to this day, and has only lost a few hundred hours by not putting in the time to learn the program.)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pedophile parliament

(Trigger warning.)

The paedophilia story in Britain is wending its way slowly upstairs. For forty years we were assured nothing was wrong, then it was just Jimmy Savile (A Bad 'Un ™), then it was a bunch of other BBC DJs, and a few pop stars and TV hosts. But that's as far as it went! Close down that bolshy BBC and everything will be fine!

Now we hear this:

The two ex-officers even said that they were aware that boys were being killed by the 'Westminster paedophile network', but were unable to take any action because the perpetrators were so powerful.
From Exaronews.

Holy shit.

Exaro may be a little out there, but the regular papers are on it too. (And yes, the Mirror's a tabloid but it's a tabloid in England, where libel cases are routinely won by the plaintiffs.)

A victim of the Westminster paedophile abuse scandal has claimed he saw a Conservative MP murder a young boy during a depraved sex party.
The Mirror

Today we get this:

Two newspaper executives have told the Observer that their publications were issued with D-notices – warnings not to publish intelligence that might damage national security – when they sought to report on allegations of a powerful group of men engaging in child sex abuse in 1984. [...]
The other said that his newspaper had received a D-notice when a reporter sought to write about a police investigation into Elm Guest House, in southwest London, where a group of high-profile paedophiles was said to have operated and may have killed a child. Now it has emerged that these claims are impossible to verify or discount because the D-notice archives for that period “are not complete”.  
The Guardian.
I'll bet they're 'not complete'.

Anybody who has been paying attention has heard some of the names, obviously. Cyril Smith, safely dead and therefore with no rights to sue, has been named repeatedly (though not in connection with any deaths, as far as I know), and other names have been put forward from Parliament. The allegations also include ones against people who are rather coyly described as being 'at the very top', i.e. in the Royal Family.

The current government has been running a second-rate Keystone Kops routine pretending to hold an inquiry into the allegations, but up to now they haven't found anyone to chair it who doesn't hobnob with the people alleged to be perpetrators. The whole of the British Establishment is so tightly intertwined that the ruling class can't get fair hearing, i.e. they can't get a hearing that's not chaired by one of their hunting/dinner engagement buddies.

Of course, I don't think Reg 'the whippet fancier' Trotsky of 3 Closed Mines Road, Salford has been asked to chair it. If we all get a vote for the chairperson, I'm voting for him.

At times during the investigation - not to mention the god-awful Rotherham thing - it's seemed like there isn't anyone in Britain who isn't a sex criminal. At first, during the pile-on phase after Jimmy Savile's death I was thinking back to the 'Satanic Child Abuse' of the eighties, which wasn't all it was cracked up to be. But these men and women aren't being coached (accidentally or purposefully) by guidance counsellors while ostensibly asking them about their experiences - they're just ordinary people, unmediated, coming forward in droves to report things that happened in their past.

Not that the atmosphere in the US is any cleaner. Bill Cosby? R Kelly? Sheesh.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

NaNoWriMo progress and advice for other writers

NaNoWriMo has coincided with major roadworks in our town. And by major, I mean that there are only two roads to speak of, and one is completely closed. Everyone's using the other one, and so the three minute trip into town is now a 15 to 20 minute trip into town.

So between the two time sinks, I'm not really doing much of anything else.

I'm halfway through the 50,000 word goal of a Nano book, which is good, because I'm halfway through November. It feels odd to write something in such a linear fashion. I have an outline and know where I'm going, it's just that it takes forever to get there, much like going into town. (It would have helped if I'd written the outline before the beginning of November - I might be three quarters of the way through if I had.)

Everybody is supposed to have advice for other writers about this sort of thing, so here's mine so far:

1. I once heard an actor* talking about doing Improv. He said the most important thing in a sketch was to say "yes". If the other person gives you a line like, "I hear your wife is an alien from Arcturus," you say, "Yes, and..." and go on to supply something of your own. You don't say, "No, actually she's just from around here," because that will shut down a lot of possibilities.

I find myself shutting down possibilities in first drafts all the time. "Raymond asked her if she wanted to go to the all-nite diner and she said no, she was too tired." Nope, you can't do anything with that. Either she says yes, and the story goes in that direction or Raymond never brings it up in the first place. Who wants a story about people who are too tired? I have to go back and take all these things out.

2. Something that may be related to #1.  I used to be wishy-washy about some things when I was writing.  Janice wasn't sure if she liked the decor. Jim had not made his mind up about buying the motorbike. Inigo put off making his mind up about the party until later.  After a long while (i.e., not during this month, but after examples over many years) I realized that it was because I, as the writer, had not made my own mind up about whatever it was. And if I didn't care either way, who else would? I made an effort to have an opinion on things ready before the character had to think about them.  This seems to be a close relative of the infamous "she woke up in a white room" scene and the equally dreaded "she looked out of the window but could only see fog" scene, both of which are telling me that I've failed to imagine the character's environment, so I just called it featureless instead and hoped my inner editor wouldn't notice.

* I think it was actually a comedian but I couldn't think of a funny line. It's late and I've been writing, and/or stuck in a traffic jam all day. How about "No, actually she's from Poughkeepsie."

Poughkeepsie is always funny.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

New: Die with Zeke: the paleo die-et

I have a dragon called Ezekiel J Emanuel; he's called that because I found a Hah-vahd name-badge for him lying in a Cambridge, Mass. parking lot. He's worn the badge for the last twenty or so years.

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(His polar bear friend is Scott of the North West corner.)

This means that every now and again, when the "bioethicist" Ezekiel J Emanuel (Zeke to his friends) comes up in the news, I have a look to see what he has to say, and I let my dragon know.

This week he's in the news because he's decided that when he's 75, he  does not wish to receive any life-prolonging medical care. He wrote an article about it in the Atlantic, and was subsequently interviewed on video by James Hamblin, M.D. who is something or other at the Atlantic. Hamblin looks way too young to be an M.D. and is nervous at interviewing the "most famous" person he's ever interviewed (hear that, Dragon Ezekiel?).

So this was my first look at the famous Original Ezekiel J Emanuel. Thinking that life is more or less over at 75 is hard to justify even from a historical standpoint. (In the written article he gives historical life expectancies at birth, which is a biased and pushy way to present the data.) He's also, weirdly enough, against people with terminal illnesses choosing for themselves when to die. He gives the date he will be 75 as 2032, which means he's around my age: He looks mid-sixties. He's really rich-looking in a very off-putting way. He can't stand cats. It may be just me, but he rubs me up the wrong way.

But most dislikeable of all, there's a bit at the end where they bet each other whether he'll change his mind when he's 75. If he changes his mind, he'll buy Hamblin dinner. If not Hamblin buys.

"We'll go to Per Se in New York, is that a deal?" says Zeke.
"I don't even know what that is," says the teenage M.D.
"You obviously don't have enough money and you don't take a serious enough interest in food," says Zeke, cementing my dislike of the man.

You can afford dinner at Per Se and you'll kick it in the head when you're 75?

I hereby append the Immortal Words of Dave Barnaby. *

(* "Well, fuck off then." - Dave Barnaby.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

NaNoWrimo - not many words, but at least the right ones

I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year, and the goal is to write 1,660 words a day for the whole of November. Unfortunately, all 1,660 words are supposed to go into the novel in progress (because NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth), and all the words I write in places like here do not count. Overall, by the end of November this will come to 50,000 words, or the length of a short novel.

Since I didn't sit down to write a synopsis until November 1st, I'm only just starting to put the actual text of the novel down, so I'm a little behind.

However, I'm writing this here instead of there to get a month's jump on one particular word out of the 50,000. One of my characters owns a publishing company and has come out with an e-reader device for those of its customers who prefer the 21st century way of perusing books. I was trying to think of a name for such an e-reader and after less than 1/10 of a second the perfect name roared in and screeched to a halt in my brain.

That name is the ╬╝Tome. Pronounced microtome. Lightweight, obviously, but capacious.

Brilliant isn't it? :) And I couldn't find it being used in that context on a brief Google search. So I'm writing this to see if anyone has laid claim to it as an e-reader name. If not, it's mine! And I get to use it in the book.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Coconut Octopus in all its finery

Gorgeous photograph of a Coconut Octopus.

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The site I got it from, All That Is Interesting, had no attribution details. It's a beautifully composed picture so kudos to whoever took it.  The rows of little blue glow-in-the-dark Jelly Babies along the edge of the tentacles are so even and precise. (Yes, I know they are suckers seen edge-on, but they look like Jelly Babies to me.)


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