Thursday, April 23, 2015

In which birthday celebrations are had, and unhad.

Warning: gross.

So yesterday I went to the DMV to renew my driver's licence. It was my birthday, the last possible day to renew. On the other hand, when I booked the appointment months ago, it was the first slot they had.

My eyesight has been getting worse for a few months now and I was worried about about the distance vision eye test they give you, so that kind of overshadowed the birthday thing. In a completely unconnected way, I've also been eating low-carb for a few months. Every now and again a chip or a fry or a spoonful of rice, but not much and absolutely no sugar. Also equally unrelatedly, I discovered eye-glass lanyards a couple of months ago, so I wear my reading glasses all the time - around my neck on the lanyard.

I went to the DMV and got sent to the window immediately. Score! Then she asked me to read the eye chart. I panicked and said I couldn't. She was patient and eventually I read the lines first with both eyes and then with each eye separately. (When you wear reading glasses, they compensate for whatever the eye rotation inward is called. When you take them off, your eyes have to remember to rotate separately to focus on a distant object. So a few seconds preparation makes a big difference to what you can see with a single eye.) It was a bit difficult with the left eye though - she made me read two different lines in case I had memorized the first one. Which in fact I had, in fact. CA eye charts are easy to memorize. They are the same five letters over and over in different orders. You know if you've used up the "p" the one that looks similar later is the "f".

She asked me if I normally wore glasses and I said I didn't. She looked at them, bouncing on my chest. We got over that difficulty, and she gave me a bit of paper to tide me over the couple of weeks with an expired licence until the new one arrives.

I was so relieved I felt like celebrating so I went to Vons and bought a GIGANTIC piece of carrot and coconut cake with about two inches of sugar-cream-cheese frosting.

I got home, drank a tumblerful of vodka, poured cream over the cake slice and ate it. It was the sweetest, most carrotty and coconutty cake ever and the cream cheese frosting was so rich it was almost 100% cheese AND 100% white sugar.

About six hours later - so after midnight and technically not on my birthday - I woke up and realized Mr. Cake was not appreciated by my stomach. I ran to the bathroom and I swear when I saw it again, it was more or less whole. The crumb structure was intact. The frosting was intact. If I had a fork and the inclination I could have reassembled it, complete with cream cheese frosting on top. Nothing, not even the sugar, was missing.

This probably means I should stay on a low carb diet, right?

However, my eyesight is better today, which means that when the eye doctor told me my eyesight would be best after a good night's sleep of at least 9 hours, what he actually meant was my eyesight would improve no end after I got up at three in the morning to take a call on the porcelain telephone and spent the next three hours re-hydrating.

Moss vs. Spirogyra: Two plants enter, one has leaves

I don't know why this mattered so much, but during winter someone posted this photo of an alligator with plant matter on his back on Facebook, and said it was "moss" growing on its back.  I replied that it was pondweed, and the animal may have rolled in it.

He replied to say it was obviously moss as it was "hairy" and pondweed is "not hairy".

It was winter, so there wasn't much growth in my pond, but now it's spring, so here we go.

 photo moss weed april_zpsi41o72az.jpg

The stuff on the right is moss. Moss is famously not "hairy" - it's one of the most primitive plants to have proper leaves.  The stuff on the left is pondweed - this is the equally famous spirogyra of school microscope lessons fame - and it is by definition hairy, as it's made up of very long filaments.

In my case the spirogyra is being heaped up on the edge of a water flow, and lies in long, curly tangles.

The alligator photo was originally posted on Reddit, and you can read the thread about it here. The Redditors are interchangeably calling it "moss" and "algae" (algae is the plant type to which spirogyra belongs). They're not sure if the animal is sick and unable to clean itself, or growing the sweater, as they call it, or if it has rolled in it. Since alligators shed their scales like other reptiles, they should cast off any plant growth regularly. A few think it's the animal's ghillie suit, but I remain optimistic that alligators aren't that clever. I hope.

But whatevs, moss is not hairy.

He'll never see this, as that was on Facebook, and he's a friend of a friend anyway, i.e. someone I've never met and never will meet.  But, hey, picture of moss and pondweed.

What bird is this?

I thought it was a goldfinch, but there are goldfinches on the seed-feeder which are much smaller. And this has a yellow forehead and black breast. The goldfinches are supposed to have a black forehead and a yellow breast.

 photo yellow bird april_zpszp9btsu1.jpg

Here's a hummingbird for size comparison.

 photo hum april_zpsxb5xqx9i.jpg

Whoever he is, he's a big meanie. He chased away all the little hummers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Doctor Who is Cliff Richard's father

Unearthed from 1969, a Tyne Tees series in which Cliff Richard tries to do the right thing.

Nicholas Whyte is responsible for the disinterment. There are three episodes surviving, down from six originally broadcast.  The TV is itself remarkably primitive - the black and white square box looks as though it's from 1949, not 1969. And the sentiments aren't much more modern.

It seems to stem from a Sunday sermon program. I don't recall it, but then I didn't see much Tyne Tees (I was in Yorkshire) in 1969.  The format is: youth is disaffected; youth goes in search of his roots; youth learns he is wrong and the Church of England is correct. Wait, that sounds boring. But it's not boring! It's Cliff Richard at the height of his powers along with The Settlers singing fairly good songs. If you like to play "guess the parable", or if you just wonder how Imaginary Youth interacted with Imaginary Police, this is the series for you.

NSFW: Beware that when you see what's graffiti'd on the wall at the beginning of Johnny Up the Creek, you'll want to bail. No TV station on earth would put that phrase up there for all to see nowadays. But the program's heart is in the right place. The type of person who wrote the slogan is shown up as an idiot later on. Still alarming to see, though.

The great delight is seeing William Hartnell, the original Doctor Who, as Johnny's father in Johnny Come Home.

4/23 Edited to put the NSFW warning earlier in the post.

Monday, April 06, 2015

About the Hugos

I should blog about the Worldcon nominations for the Hugo, but words fail me.

For the record, anybody on the RP or Sad Puppy slate is going below "No Award" on my vote card. 

Yes, I have thought about it. I've read everything I can on the issue so far and that's the nuclear option, but it's the only way out. Abigail Nussbaum explains in detail here.

I've read all the threads on Making Light, Whatever and Antipope, as well as thousands of posts on Kotaku, Vox Day and Brad Torgersen.  I'm voting Noa Waard for anything on a slate - this year only the Sad and the Rabid Puppies, but next year who knows. Slates poison the Hugo.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Led Zeppelin: the folkies who recorded a few heavy tracks

Someone - and I wish I could remember who - once said that Led Zeppelin were a folk band who happened to record a few electric numbers. It does put a different spin on the whole thing, seeing them as a band setting up in 1968, which was perhaps the height of the Children Of The Great Folk Scare setting up bands thing. Peak Mirror Folk.

I've been listening to the remasters a lot over the past few weeks, obviously. And since I heard the sad news that John Renbourn passed away this week, I've been listening to Pentangle more than I have for about forty years as well.

And this struck me.

Pentangle. Jump Baby Jump from Solomon's Seal, 1972.

Led Zeppelin. That's The Way, from Led Zeppelin III, 1970

A track from folky Pentangle's folkiest album and a track from Led Zeppelin's folkiest album sound almost the same. It's at times like these when you forget all about Immigrant Song and just think of the guys who loved Joni Mitchell so much they wrote a song about Southern California folkies.

And for anyone thinking the usual, "So Jimmy Page ripped off another tune of Bert Jansch's, har har," note that LZIII was released two years before the Pentangle album.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Get Thee Behind Me Satan - the Almanac Singers

All kinds of people I know want the White Stripes record Get Behind Me Satan. OK.

That need fooled me at first as one of the earliest tunes I ever learned on guitar was Get Thee Behind Me Satan - a formula from the Bible that precluded Jack White's interpretation of 'get behind me' meaning 'I need you behind me - get on my team'. It originally meant get out of my way. (Maybe that's obvious. Who knows these days.)

What I liked about the old Almanac Singers tune as I learned more about popular music was that the blue notes in the chorus managed to avoid the actual Blues. They just sounded a bit flat and odd. But they were blue notes even if the band didn't know it. The group just hadn't had the chance to listen to real blues and figure out how it really went.

The song was a union-promoting ditty and as a descendant of the Wobbly movement myself, I'm all for it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lithofayne Pridgeon, Hendrix's girlfriend: Interview in the Guardian

While I'm extolling the virtues of Roadies, I should also mention that The Guardian had a piece on another aspect of musician support networks. Not that I'm suggesting this lady, the amazingly-named Lithofayne Pridgon, was a groupie, in the vulgar sense. She is one of those women like Pattie Boyd, Charlotte Martin or June Child who seemed to understand rock musicians and their odd lifestyles and ended up dating or marrying several of them.

Lithofayne Pridgeon was associated with Sly Stone, Little Willie John, and of course Jimi Hendrix. She also befriended such men as James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye. It's an incredible life story, and the Guardian gives a long interview and brief overview of her life.

My favorite remains Pamela Des Barres, though, because she is such a sweetie. Also, she wrote a tell-all book, which always helps.


The Wall Street Journal (of all things) had a long piece on Road Managers - Roadies - on Friday.

Roadies have always interested me as a representative of the class of people who move around to provide support while the overall lattice of support - interstates, electricity grids, diners - stay static, along with their personnel. I've never managed to get any of that feeling into my fiction but this article got me thinking again. When I first thought about it - in the early seventies (I still have the first three issues of short-lived mazagine International Roadcrew) moving around like that meant you were dissociated from much of your static support - for example, wives and new job offers - throwing you completely on the support of other mobile members of your community. Nowadays, your webpage, cellphone number, Facebook and so forth is in cyberspace, so it neither moves nor needs to move physically. In a way, that diminishes some of the kick of it but I might be able to find a way around that.

One may notice that I'm mentioning the roadies rather than the bands they (obviously) travel with. I *have* managed to get that type of travel into fiction, and so have lots of other people, even though the difference is in many ways just one of degree.

I'll also note that nobody says to a roadie, "The world don't owe you a living mate. If you love your job so much you'd do it for free!" But they do say that about musicians, a lot, for some reason.

WSJ: Roadies: Unlikely Survivors in the Music Business Roadies’ elevation to ‘concert technicians’—the term many practitioners favor—is reshaping their culture

Jack White Lollapalooza show (complete video) 2015-03-21

Jack White Lollapalooza show, full set (complete video) 2015-03-21

(Thank you Matthew!)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jack White: Ball and Biscuit, Lollapalooza, Argentina 2015-03-21

Yesterday, I posted a video of Jack White singing The Lemon Song with Robert Plant and remarked that the last few chords were from Ball and Biscuit. This video is from half way through Lemon Song and continues to the end of Ball and Biscuit.

This was a killer show, all right!

Jack White and Robert Plant

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Jack White and Robert Plant, The Lemon Song/Killing Floor Lollapalooza, Argentina 2015-03-21

Jack White plays The Lemon Song. Robert Plant sings it. Robert pushes up against Jack like they were old pals.

The bass playing is not quite up to the original, but Jack takes the place of Jimmy Page in a very, very creditable fashion here. The end of the track is the first few notes of Ball And Biscuit, so stay tuned for the next video. Edit: Here it is: Ball and Biscuit. 

Edit to add this picture vv. (Sorry, I did not see a picture credit on Facebook - if it's yours please let me know.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Genetic Engineering: Birds Do It, Bees Do It. Let's Modify Our Embryos!

David Baltimore wants a moratorium on CRISPR/Cas9 technology and likens it to the voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA declared at the Asilomar conference in 1975. Paul Berg, one of the signatories back then, is one of the signatories now.  They feel that the technique could be used for 'germline' genetic modification, even though the current uses are for 'somatic' (non-inheritable) genetic changes. And germline engineering - inheritable changes to DNA - would be bad.

It's interesting that it's taken literally 40 years to go from OMG we can do what to bacteria? through OMG we're adding what genes to tomatoes? to OMFG we can do what to human babies? I think once we got past Asilomar, people thought the timelines would be shorter.

An image of DNA.

Anyway, according to Genomeweb (which you may have to sign up for to read; it's free and doesn't send you spam), Ye Olde Concernede Scientists are making another principled stand against the possibility of the Frankenstein thing. They've published two editorials, one in Science and one in Nature, which is the strongest stance scientists can take. (It's equivalent to ordinary mortals saying "I say Good Day to you Sir, Good Day!" and walking out.) You can't read the one in Science because it's beyond a paywall (because science) but the Nature one is free to air, or whatever it's called in sciency terms.

The Nature piece describes CRISPR as:
The newest addition to the genome-editing arsenal is CRISPR/Cas9, a bacteria-derived system that uses RNA molecules that recognize specific human DNA sequences. The RNAs act as guides, matching the nuclease to corresponding locations in the human genome. CRISPR/Cas9 is the simplest genome-editing tool to work with because it relies on RNA–DNA base pairing, rather than the engineering of proteins that bind particular DNA sequences.
The CRISPR technique has dramatically expanded research on genome editing.
And Zinc Finger Nucleases as:
For instance, ZFNs are DNA-binding proteins that can be engineered to induce a double-strand break in a section of DNA. Such molecular scissors enable researchers to ‘knock out’ specific genes, repair a mutation or incorporate a new stretch of DNA into a selected location.
Scientists could use these powers for good:
Genome-editing technologies may offer a powerful approach to treat many human diseases, including HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia and several forms of cancer.
Or use the powers for evil:
In our view, genome editing in human embryos using current technologies could have unpredictable effects on future generations. This makes it dangerous and ethically unacceptable. Such research could be exploited for non-therapeutic modifications.  

Admittedly that doesn't sound very evil. I think what they're really concerned about is this (the next sentence):
We are concerned that a public outcry about such an ethical breach could hinder a promising area of therapeutic development, namely making genetic changes that cannot be inherited.
In other words, people might find out about it and stop them.

In the article that is pointed to by the Science editorial, entitled Embryo Engineering Alarm, Gretchen Vogel points out:
Rumors are rife that scientists in China have already used CRISPR on human embryos.
If the Chinese are creating supersoldiers who can withstand boiling lava and nuclear explosions, I sense what we actually have is an embryo engineering gap, and we should move full steam ahead!


Anyway, if we won't genetically engineer our own embryos, the bugs will do it for us. That's the gist of  another article in Genomeweb this week called Genome Analysis Reveals Horizontal Gene Transfer Events in Vertebrates. It shows that a number of genes that vertebrates bear actually come from other organisms, transferred there 'horizontally' which is to say by being transferred physically into cell nuclei where they cause a permanent change, rather than 'vertically', which describes genes that get there from your mother and father.

The authors say:
"This is the first study to show how widely horizontal gene transfer occurs in animals, including humans, giving rise to tens or hundreds of active 'foreign' genes," Cambridge's Alastair Crisp said in a statement. "Surprisingly, far from being a rare occurrence, it appears that HGT has contributed to the evolution of many, perhaps all, animals and that the process is ongoing, meaning that we may need to re-evaluate how we think about evolution."
But that's not really what the overall article says:
To place the timing of these HGT events, Crisp and his colleagues mapped the foreign ortholog groups for each taxon to their phylogenetic trees. For Drosophila and Caenorhabditis, the branch length corresponded with the number of HGT events along those branches, suggesting that HGT is both old and ongoing in these species.
Which is to say for fruit flies and a type of roundworm, the horizontal gene transfer has been going on for a long time and still occurs.
However, the pattern was different for primates, as most of the foreign groups mapped to the base of the phylogenetic tree, indicating that the HGT events occurred in the span of time between the common ancestor of Chordata and the common ancestors of primates.
So for us and our cousins, these HGT occurred half a billion years ago. If they hadn't said that, I would assume the whole paper simply existed to give credence to Big Ag's contention that genetic engineering occurs naturally, and therefore the more fish genes they can stuff into tomatoes, the more natural they are. Crisp's statement above about "ongoing" HGT is right in line with that thinking.

And also note this, also from the Genomeweb article:
The researchers also noted that they couldn't fully rule out the possibility that these foreign genes were inherited by vertical descent and then lost from other metazoan species.
Well then.

Personally, I'm still more worried that, as the original Asilomar team thought, someone will genetically engineer anthrax or some minor tick-borne disease to become untreatable or more  easily spread. And I'm more worried that Monsanto will continue to add weird genes in random spots on the genome of world-wide crop plants, as the Greens fear. I'm not particularly worried that Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie Rich of the Hamptons will want their kid to have green eyes or agouti hair. All that would happen is, instead of people saying, "Hahaha -she's called Skylar. She must have been born in the twenty-teens!" people will say, "Hahaha - he's got six fingers. He must have been born in the twenty-teens!"

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Led Zeppelin - Key To The Highway and other delights

I'm digging (as the kids say these days) the Led Zeppelin remasters series.

Jimmy Page is in charge and he doesn't do any of that "Fuck it, here's a cassette tape we recorded of an Osmonds hit while we were drunk in Tallahassee, let's call it a lost tape" crap.

I listened to the Physical Graffiti one last night, and it's like hearing it for the first time, if hearing it for the first time involved listening to other stuff as well while Jimmy Page himself curated what records were on the turntable. Amazing stuff.

Here's Key To The Highway, the nearest thing to covering an Osmonds hit so far, i.e. not in the same ballpark. It's gorgeous.

And the reversed colors of the third album on the video's splash screen are just great, y'know.

I imagine all the remasters are on YouTube now, which is nice if you can't get hold of the originals. If you can, you'll find that there really is a difference between a YouTube/mp3 and a proper lossless track.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


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