Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Holiday's over, guys!

We've been privileged this January to be hosts to a bunch of smallish flies (not tiny ones) who apparently think they're spending their holiday break either in our kitchen or lounge, or sometimes in the bathroom and sometimes in the laundry. There are only ever about half a dozen at any one time, but they lazily float around the centre of the room, refusing to go anywhere near windows or doors, and consequently not only get in your way whenever you move, but also make it irritating watching TV, because there's this subtle movement constantly being caught in your peripheral vision.

Blowflies have the sense to make a great fuss about the fact that they've somehow got themselves trapped indoors, and are eternally grateful if you open a window for them that they can actually find their way out of. Although they do seem a little lacking in brain: open a window and they'll fly smack into the closed one next to it, or sit on the glass in the open window wondering where the breeze is coming from. But at least they generally leave when requested. And they plainly have places to go and things to do, if the speed of their departure is anything to go by.

These other little flies, however, have long since outstayed their welcome - though at least they don't make any noise. Finally we made up a mix of vinegar and water to spray at them, because I don't like using normal fly sprays, especially in the kitchen. All that happened was they got wet and carried on swinging back and forth across the room drying themselves. My daughter's comment was that the only way they would die was if they drowned from excess water. This didn't seem to happen.

Last night we resorted to using a proper fly spray. There was a sudden emptiness in the middle of the room after I'd sprayed it at them, and I was sure they'd all been sent to the place where all flies go (not somewhere I'm keen to follow, incidentally). Obviously one or two missed the blast, because this morning I notice that distinct movement out of the corner of my eye. Hopefully however, they'll have the sense to realise that the Summer holidays are over and they need to go back to wherever they came from.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Phantom

The phantom power mentioned in a Nady Phantom power supply is a mystery to me...or at least it was until I found a very useful page telling me exactly what phantom power is. Read the page: he does it much better than I could, and manages to make it comprehensible.

For those who don't get around to reading the page, I can tell you that phantom power has nothing to do with the paranormal (although some singing that goes into the mics using phantom power might well be considered abnormal).

That aside, it reminded me of that old comic strip, The Phantom, a character who doesn't seem to have been taken up by Hollywood in its current rash of super heroes. Admittedly The Phantom - or The Ghost Who Walks - didn't seem to have any particular powers - his abilities were mostly fairly easily explained if you thought about it. Perhaps his peculiar power of being able to wander through the jungle in a tight suit and mask without ever getting it torn was something special, but otherwise he was a pretty ordinary bloke, I think.

I thought The Phantom had long since departed the syndicated comics scene, but though his creator, Lee Falk (who first introduced him in 1936) died fifteen years ago, the series continues. It's been drawn by several artists over the period, though only one writer, Tony DePaul, seems to have been involved, along with a .

The Phantom was the first hero to wander around in a skin-tight suit (thus setting a trend for all the later super heroes) and also the first to wear a mask that somehow hid his pupils. This idea of having no visible pupils apparently came from sculptured Greek statues, many of which were eyeless.

When I say that Hollywood hasn't recently worked with The Phantom, that's not to say it never has. There was a successful serial way back in the forties, and there was a feature film in 1996, which I can't say I remember seeing advertised. A more recent version was to have been filmed, but seems to have gone down the plughole. Sam Worthington was at one time being touted as the lead.

There have been at least three Phantom musicals, two of them originating in Scandinavia, an area of the world with which the Phantom has long had an association through Fantomen, the Swedish version of the character, which dates from 1950, Fantomet in Norway, and Mustanaamio in Finland.

Well, there you go. Plainly The Phantom/
Fantomen/Fantomet/Mustanaamio is alive and well, and looking forward to being around much longer than any of his creators. It helps, of course, that us ordinary mortals can't distinguish Phantom number 21 from number 20 and so on.

Post-Grimhilda!

Now that Grimhilda! is online, I can move onto the next project. Some will no doubt think this will be the sequel to Grimhilda! and originally that was my intention.  However, I've had another writing project sitting on the backburner for some time, and since it's mainly a matter of editing and editing (and perhaps editing again) I've gone on to do that.  I'm planning on getting the book online by April.

It concerns a time in late 2008 when I had a biopsy for possible prostate cancer. The biopsy itself was unpleasant, but the aftermath was much worse. You'll have to wait until the book comes out to find out why.

Suffice to say I didn't go on to have prostate cancer, for which I'm very grateful, but at the time I was going through a painful period, and I wrote a number of blog posts about it on WorkReport, a blog I used - as you might infer by its name - mainly for work-related posts. It had started when I was looking for work in late 2006 and I'm still running it today, though, since I'm now retired, it's changed its focus considerably. That's one of the great boons of blogs: you can move them on as your situation changes.

Anyway, the book is obviously non-fiction, so that'll be something of a shift from Grimhilda!  But for those who are wondering when the sequel to the musical is going to arrive, I can tell you that I had a meeting today with my co-writer, and we threw some ideas around. It may not be quite the sequel you'll expect - it may not be what we expect - but it will be a musical and of course it'll be great fun to be involved in. So put your name down now!  :)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Don't stop too soon

While looking through my Evernote clippings for references to guitars (and there were a distractingly large number of them) I came across this quote by recording artist, John Mayer (who may or may not use a good Telefunken M80 - I only discovered that a Telefunken M80 is a mic a few minutes ago).

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to write bad songs. There’s a lot of people who don’t want to finish songs because they don’t think they’re any good. Well they’re not good enough. Write it! I want you to write me the worst songs you could possible write me because you won’t write bad songs. You’re thinking they’re bad so you don’t have to finish it. That’s what I really think it is. Well it’s all right. Well, how do you know? It’s not done!”
The paragraph's a bit cluttered - it may have been taken down verbatim, of course - but it has a kind of truth in it. You can't write good songs unless you've written bad songs, and even bad songs have to be finished in order to prove for all time that they're too bad to be bothered further with. Over the Christmas/New Year period I wrote three or four, or maybe five songs. At least two of them breezed off the page without looking back and proved their worth from day one. The other three...? Well, they've got potential but they're not quite sorted yet. I could abandon them but that might mean that good material gets dumped because it isn't quite right yet.
Equally, when you write a scene for a play or a novel and say, 'That's so bad I can't even go further with it,' you may not have got to the nut of the thing.  Yup, you may be right about its badness, but more to the point, you'll do two things: you'll have decided on the badness of the scene before you've finished it, which may mean you won't discover something good that's still to come, and, you'll begin to tell yourself I'm not very good, so why should I bother? Once again the internal critic will have got you by the short and curlies and another possible writer may bite the dust.

I can remember trying to write a scene for the musical Grimhilda! We had a rough idea of what the scene had to do within the overall structure of the story, but the characters that were needed just weren't there. I sat and thought about it, and thought about it, and thought about it, and never quite got to starting to write it. (I can procrastinate like nobody's business.) Finally I took my co-writer's advice and just wrote, anything, something, just to get started. The scene took off, characters turned up, and we were away. I haven't gone back to look, but I doubt if that first draft is anything like what was eventually performed on stage. I know however that in the midst of the 'stuff' that the scene eventually came out of there will be some things that stayed, that were the true elements of that particular scene.

I've got a book amongst the innumerable books on writing that I possess by a guy called Peter Elbow. It's entitled, Writing without Teachers.  I don't think I've ever read more than the first chapter, but I keep the book because in that first chapter (or at least very early in the book) he makes the valuable point. When you don't know what to write, just start writing - anything, the most utter drivel on the face of the earth, stuff that you wouldn't let your mother see, stuff you wouldn't give the dog to eat. (This is my paraphrase; it's not what Mr Elbow actually says.)  And this is all you can do. Writing requires you to write. Of course there's thinking to be done, but sometimes that comes after you've started writing. I remember starting a story - I think there were about thirty pages - and realising that two or three vivid characters had turned up out of nowhere, and were determined to stay. Eventually, of course, they were changed and the story was changed and little of that original thirty pages survived, but the fire had been lit and was burning in that stretch of just writing.
Anne Lamott calls this kind of writing shitty first drafts. Yup, that's what they are, but out of the manure grows something that's beautiful and edible. Don't stop too soon.


The Sunset Limited

Some spoilers in the post. 

Two men in a room. A long conversation between the two, lasting nearly 90 minutes of screen time. One is a black man (Samuel L Jackson), a poor railway worker, with a major criminal conviction behind him. The other is a white man, a Professor, (Tommy Lee Jones) worn out and world-weary, who's just attempted to commit suicide on the tracks in front of the Sunset Limited train. Somehow, and most unexpectedly, the black man has saved him and brought him back to his two-room apartment.  The door is locked with four or five different locks; outside the sounds of a major railway station go on intermittently: someone playing a trumpet badly, a sudden fight, shouting, trains stopping and starting. Our focus, however, is on the discussion these two men are having: life and death, belief and unbelief, God or not God.

This movie is based solidly on Cormac McCarthy's play - which isn't officially a play, but a 'novel in dramatic form (the playscript has minimal stage directions - the focus is on the dialogue). However, it's been presented frequently on stage, and works very well there, in spite of almost no 'action' (a coffee is made, some soup is cooked). The version I've just seen is the HBO version, directed by Tommy Lee Jones.

Both the stars revel in their parts, though Jackson's is much more the flamboyant one. Jones plays his very close to the bone: already looking like death warmed up in most of his movies, here he virtually has a mask of a face, with two dreadfully tired eyes peering out. I sometimes felt you could have done with more passion from Jones, but he saves it till the end, when he produces a tirade that shows he isn't going to change his position, no matter what. If anything he's more entrenched than ever. The much more 'fussy' Austin Pendleton played the same part on the stage - he may have been better cast, in fact, than Jones, since the latter doesn't come across as an academic in most of his films, but rather a man educated on the streets. I didn't quite feel that Jones had that self-preening that the part requires to be there in some measure. Nevertheless, he plays it in his own way, reinterpreting it so that what he does with it is effective. 

Jackson has never looked more at home on the screen. He's played some very oddball roles over the years (one of the Jedi in the second Star Wars trilogy, and that strange breakable character in Unbreakable) but here he's suited to the part completely. For much of the film his character seems to have the upper hand - the Christian apologist-cum-evangelist he might be seen as - but towards the end he realises that nothing he says will stop the other man attempting suicide again. He's knocked down, but not knocked out; he's done his level best, and that's all he could have done. God doesn't force his way into a person's life; if that person (White) doesn't want him, he'll let him be. And White doesn't want God
, come what may. Much of White's problem is a self-loathing, but he also gradually reveals that he loathes everyone else too (though he manages to tolerate Black long enough to stay and have a meal with him), and this hatred of his 'brother' (as Black calls other people) is perhaps his downfall.

But the film can be read in more than one way. As a Christian I can hear the old apologetic arguments skilfully framed by White. For some of the movie, Black's counter-arguments seem weak, and lacking in conviction. It's only at the end that he shows passion for his own belief. But an agnostic or atheist coming to the movie may well see it from the other side, and find White's Christian arguments the weaker ones. McCarthy leaves it open for both to chew over their viewpoints. McCarthy is quoted as not being a fan of writers who do not 'deal with issues of life and death,' and there's no doubt what this film is about.


C&W Pill-popper

When I'm popping my pills
to alleviate my ills, I use the
Online Drugstore Canada.

When I'm running down low
and I'm likely to blow, I use the
Online Drugstore Canada.

Oh, the Online Drugstore Canada,
is the place that I call home;
every pill I need
it will quickly speed -
relieve the pressure on my rising pressure dome.

If I'm trying to start
my recalcitrant heart, I use the
Online Drugstore Canada.

If I'm easing my gout
or I'm starting to shout, I use the
Online Drugstore Canada.

Oh, the Online Drugstore Canada,
is the place that I call home;
every pill I need
it will quickly speed -
relieve the pressure on my rising pressure dome.

Will 'ganderflanking' take off?

The BBC reports that a campaign has been launched to try to get the old English word ganderflanking into the Oxford English Dictionary. It's not a new word, having its origins in Wiltshire, in the UK, apparently. It means "aimless messing around." 

My wrist watch has started ganderflanking since I got it a new battery about a week ago. There was no cleaning done, although the watchmaker claimed that it really needed it - but I'd bought the thing for £15 in Norwich in 2007, and the last thing it needs is any more money spent on it. If it goes, it goes.

But the ganderflanking aspect is that in spite of having nothing more done to it than the replacement of  a battery, it's now decided that every twenty-five minutes to the hour it should beep at me. And at twenty-five to three in the afternoon it should pretend it's reminding me of something by playing its alarm. In order to stop it giving me its alarm warning, I have to push in the button that officially is supposed to be only for setting the time on the watch. It's a sad day when a wristwatch decides it should join a campaign to revive something in the English language.

Back to the actual ganderflanking campaign.  Mervin Grist, Conservator at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre - he's also an artist, writer and performer - originally mentioned the word on the radio in December, and the presenter, Sim Courtie, was much taken with it, so much so that he immediately began campaigning to get the word into the Oxford English Dictionary. A week later it was used in the House of Commons by the South Swindon MP, Robert Buckland.

Whether it gets its rightful place in the OED is a moot point, but in the meantime, it seems a shame that such a delightful word should be lost, and I for one am already doing my bit to give it a new life. 

Making a sow's ear out of a silk purse

Though visually-impaired I am,
I'm not a Bushnell Trophy Cam.

It takes its photos in the dark,
of moose and deer and brush and bark,

but this is not it's bestest feature;
it's not a true nocturnal creature.

Its up-close photos blurry are -
with this it's almost on a par

with me, whose focus right up close
is poor and makes me quite morose

when reading crossword clues
or trying to re-wire a fuse,

or threading a needle, removing a splinter,
or reading some tiny print cursing the printer!

The Bushnell's small, compact and neat -
it won't get caught beneath your feet;

combines its audio and video
in one impregnable presidio

where, though there is great battery life,
the batteries (unless you use a knife)

are virtually impossible to change
and this is something rather strange,

a kind of ill-disposed ludology
with true time lapse technology.

Stray turkeys and nomadic deer
are caught on Bushnell's camera clear;

it's pensive tree-appended stare
will catch the odd meandering bear.

Though if the bear should see it there,
then Bushnell's Trophy Cam, beware!

A Separation

Two years ago, wrote and directed the extraordinary movie A Separation.  It's a deeply moving film about a couple in Iran: she wants to leave the country with her young pre-teenage daughter to have a better life; he wants to stay because his father has Alzheimer's, and lives with the couple. She asks for a divorce from the court; the court doesn't think she has sufficient cause because there's nothing wrong with the man and it isn't as if she doesn't love him. From this somewhat unusual starting point the film wends its way through increasing complications as the husband tries to find someone to look after his father during the day, and winds up before the court again on a very different charge. To say how it all pans out in any detail would be to thoroughly spoil the movie if you haven't seen it.
There are lies at every hand, all seemingly small, but all causing further trouble for the liars. The trouble is, the truth is difficult, and sometimes it seems easier to lie in order to get yourself out of a difficult situation. Almost no one in the story is immune from this difficulty, though some try harder than others to avoid the lies.
The Iran in this movie is a very different one from that we generally see on TV in the news. Yes, there are issues over sin, and the women have their heads covered all the time, and the Quran is used as a tool to swear by on several occasions. But beyond that, these are ordinary human beings living in a modern society that has everything any Western society has. For me it was an eye-opener in these terms.
The justice system is different: the plaintiffs and defendants can shift place at the drop of a hat, and there is only one harried, though authoritative, man dealing with each case. No lawyers, and only one or two other court staff in each small room. Dozens of complaints are being heard throughout a large building simultaneously. This was also intriguing, though somewhat scary. The judge has power to condemn to death, and almost does. But he can be pleaded with too, and that's the amazing thing. None of this nit-picking over the minutia of the law. You have to speak for yourself and speak well, and may be interrupted by the person in opposition to you.
The large cast is uniformly good, from the older actors to the children. There isn't a performance out of place here. Camera work, intentionally, isn't always steady - it's right in the middle of all the action at all times, but that unsteadiness is never obtrusive. Catch up on this movie on DVD.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cupmounts

What I could really do with on my computer desk is a cup mount, to hold my cups of tea or coffee that I usually have sitting to one side. A cup mount - like you have in your car.  You know?

Except that cupmounts, which sound as though they ought to be the same thing, appear to be a different thing.  Cupmounts here are things used to protect both electrical and mechanical equipment from impact shock and vibration.  Fitting one of these on your computer desk or in your car might be a bit tricky, since they're intended to sustain weights up to 2,800 lbs - which in kilos is quite a lot 1270 or so (or, if you want to get a better idea of what that is, think of the fact that I'm around 70 kilos in weight - that leaves a lot of kilos hanging around doing nothing.)

I'm sure we're all familiar with these kinds of cupmounts, but we probably never notice them because they're so good at doing their jobs and being modest at the same time.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tosh times two

I've mentioned before that we've been getting quite a few DVDs from the Public Library, and that often we turn up a gem that's not previously been known. Not always.

I was in a bit of a hurry the other day , so I grabbed two films that seemed to hold some hope of being worth watching. Piffle. Both of them were twaddle. The first was a 1989 TV movie called The Shell Seekers, which was based on the very popular book of the same name. Angela Lansbury starred as an older woman who'd just had a minor heart attack and wanted to get back on with life while two of her three adult children seemed to think it was about time she sold off her prized possessions and gave the dosh to them. Lansbury, who was hardly old at the time the film was made (63 or 64), was at least twice given the line, "I'm sixty-three years old...etc" as though this was something of importance. So what, was the audience reaction. The film was otherwise notable for some weakish acting, particularly from the girl playing the teenage having her first love affair; she wasn't helped by the young man playing her opposite - he was required to be as dull as ditchwater by the script, it seemed. The character motivations were suspect throughout - poor Patricia Hodge, now playing the manic mother in Miranda, was the middle child of the family, the one supposedly loved more than the others. She was written as a sympathetic character throughout, until the final scene in which she suddenly seemed to have a change of heart and became almost as grasping as her brother and sister.  More than enough said.

The second film was such a piece of nonsense that it's not surprising it took five scriptwriters to try and cobble it into some sort of shape. Cowboys and Aliens concerns a man (Daniel Craig) in the Wild West who wakes up with a solid metal cuff around his wrist that does strange things when he's least expecting it. He's lost his memory, for the most part, so he can't explain where the thing came from. Arriving in the nearest town he and the townsfolk, including Harrison Ford as the local bully rancher, are attacked from the skies by some weird flying things which lasso various characters and haul them off behind their planes. Surprisingly this doesn't kill any of them, though it does leave them a little stunned. The remaining townsfolk go after the aliens who are eventually found holed up in a massive rocket-like ship in the middle of the desert. They're pulling ground out of the ground, literally.

The humans include Craig and Ford, but also a strange woman who seems to know more than she lets on (she turns out to be some sort of alien too, though rather more friendly than nasty, animal-like ones). There's the obligatory 'Doc' who can't shoot a gun, but learns to; the boy who has to become a 'man'; the preacher, who plainly never went near any decent seminary, if what he spouts as Christianity is anything to go by; the half-breed who hero-worships Ford from afar, as it were, and turns out be more of a son than Ford's real boy (his opening stunt is to shoot the windows out of the saloon). Then there are a band of rustlers/hold-up men, and a band of Indians. Somehow they all come together for the big piece at the end, by which time we're laughing our heads off at the absurdity of it all.

Craig plays 007 with a Wild West accent, and a terrible hat, and burning eyes. Ford chaunters around the place barking at everyone, getting particularly annoying when he won't wait for the half-breed to translate from Indian into English, and consequently having to have stuff repeated to him. Olivia Wilde plays the helpful alien, and a bunch of other well-known faces have appearances of various lengths. Total Tosh.

Grimhilda! goes live

Been a busy week in which I've not only learned how to do the final processes required for getting my e-book, Grimhilda!, up onto Kindle, but also how to turn the original Word document into an .epub or .mobi file. I realised yesterday I had to have a copy in either one of these formats in order to fulfil my requirements with the National Library of NZ, which holds a copy of every e-book published in the country that's had an ISBN given to it by that library. The library acts as a kind of clearing house for ISBN numbers in NZ; it requires two copies of every printed book. Of course, it's difficult for a library to 'hold' a copy of an electronic book, soGrimhilda! has done her first 90 days on Kindle's promotional level, I'll need the book to be in those formats for sending it off to other devices, such as Kobo.
they have to have it in a format that's usable to them. .Epub and .mobi are the same formats public libraries use for their electronic books.  And, once

If you're still with me, that's great. Don't get too fussed, it's all a learning curve, for you and for me.

Anyway, Kindle says that the normal turnaround time for getting a book online with them is between 12 and 24 hours. I uploaded the final version of the book at 4.27 on Monday (I noted the time exactly!) and, when my wife came home told her she wouldn't be able to see it till the next morning. Nothing daunted, she checked anyway, and there, at 6.15, the book was up and running online. So of course she had to be the first to buy a copy, which rather puts our profits out of kilter, but at least it meant someone bought it. Later on, we were unexpectedly called over to my son's house to babysit, because my daughter-in-law had cut herself rather badly and was down at A&E. So Grimhilda! got its first 'reading to a grandchild' - or at least two or three chapters did. This same grandson, who'd seen the musical version back in 2012, and declared it 'awesome' at the time (so generous!), two years later struggled to remember it. Such is the price of fame. However, I gave him a few details to remind him, and he did remember actually going to it. I'm not sure that he realised the book was telling the same story. Well, that's the advantage of being able to take the same material and re-do it...

You can find Grimhilda! here.  Currently it's available for Kindle readers of all sorts, as well as Kindle apps on PCs and Macs, and on iPads and iPhones. And the Kindle apps on android phones too.





Tuesday, January 14, 2014

DJs

Apparently, the Revo 4 American DJ offers a moonflower effect with razor sharp LED beams producing dynamic and unique lighting patterns. It looks like a lot of fun, although I personally wouldn't have any use for it, not being  DJ. 

I met an artist the other day who's does DJ work three nights a week. He told me this while working on a large canvas of Tippi Hedren, the woman nearly frightened (and pecked) to death in Hitchock's The Birds. This artist applies the normal brushstroke to fill in the features of the painting, then uses a second, dry brush to give a kind of smudge effect that makes it look somehow as though there's a blur to the picture. Intriguing. 

I don't know that I've met many DJs in my time. It always strikes me as a rather odd job, but plainly it requires a great deal more skill than I've given it credit for. You have to be quite a technician as well as a bit of a showman. So, strike that off the list of possible jobs for me in my retirement. 

However, DJs sometimes go beyond their technical skill and musical ability. Take this extract for instance, in which Alexis Petridis is discussing Stockhausen's last but previously unperformed opera, which can only be said to bizarre in a multitude of ways: 


Radio 1 DJ Nihal Arthanayake has been cast in the role that Stockhausen intended for himself: interviewing the participants – players and pilots alike – after the Helikopter-Streichquartet, and hosting an audience question-and-answer session. "There's no context as to why they would have approached me," Arthanayake says. "I mean, I've seen an opera before, but I'll tell you how shandy an opera that was: it had Dawn French in it. To be honest, I didn't stop to ask them why, just in case they thought, 'Oh, we've got the wrong fella.' I thought, 'Oh God, it's gonna be one of those things where you're DJing dubstep and a big woman comes out and starts singing over the top of it' – but then Graham started talking about string quartets and helicopters. I don't think I've ever been in a meeting for an hour and half and been so dazzled and confused and inspired.

Progress on the e-book

The e-book version of Grimhilda! is making good progress. I've actually put a preliminary version online at Kindle's site, so that I can check out to see what it looks like on various devices. As a result, my son and I spent a good deal of time last night sorting certain elements out such as spacing, and changing a little design feature, and altering the way the cast list showed up (somewhat randomly instead of in neat columns) and checking out links and photos and so on.

And we worked on the cover as well, though this hasn't been uploaded as yet. This draft version isn't available for anyone else to view online yet, though hopefully the finished product won't be far away.

The Kindle site is very informative - sometimes overwhelmingly so - but in general I found, even though I'm not a whizz kid on computer things (except in certain specialized areas) that I understood what was required, and have managed to do it. That's been very satisfying!

Initially the e-book will appear just on Kindle (which means of course that it can still be read in iPads and iPhones, plus other smartphones). This will be for the first three months; after that it will also appear on other platforms, such as Kobo.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fendering

As everyone knows, I'm sure, a fender bender is a colloquialism for a minor traffic accident, although
when you put that phrase into Google Images you come up with a great number of shots of accidents that to me would hardly be classed as minor [see the image included here]. Considering how much excess there is to pay on any motor vehicle claim these days, and what it costs merely to replace a fender, some of these accidents must have cost around a $1000.

I put fender into Evernote to see what things would come up.  Interestingly enough there was a more than usually random set, though the number was small: just four. One of them was a photo of my grandparents' marriage certificate in which the name Charles, written in very 1901 handwriting, was mistaken for fender.  That was a bit of a surprise.

Two more photos had the same misreading problem, though not because of handwriting.  In one of them Evernote mistook the name Jenner for fender (admittedly the print is a little rounded on the page) and in the other the printed word render was picked up. Evernote does a very good job of picking up text from photos, but in these cases just didn't quite get there.

The last search response actually got the word fender, in the middle of this wonderful list from a delightful poem by Barbara Hamby called Ode to Hardware Stores: 


(garnet, production, wet or dry), hinges, wire nails, caulk, nuts,
     lag screws, pulleys, vise grips, hexbolts, fender washers
all in a primordial stew of laconic talk about football, baseball...

I'm not sure what a fender washer is, (nor a hexbolt, if it comes to that), but it's the only clipping I've got that actually contains the right word.

All of this by way of mentioning the Fender amplifier, made by the company, Fender, naturally. Fender are currently advertising an amplifier called the Vaporizer. I'm not sure if that means that if you sit in front of it you'll be vaporized, but it does sound a little ominous, even though the model in the picture looks innocuous enough.

We have an almost-vaporizing problem at our church: two sets of amps are seated on either side of the stage and though they face slightly inwards, if you sit at the right or left of the auditorium you get a full blast. One of the sound people said the best place to sit is right in the middle of the auditorium, in front of the sound desk. I might try it, but I suspect that if this is the best place to have the most moderate experience, then the sound people aren't actually hearing what most people in the place are hearing.  No wonder they don't take everyone else's complaints on board!


The fender bender photo courtesy of San Francisco Citizen

Rankin outranks Tyler

I began reading another Anne Tyler: Celestial Navigation.  It's very good, and the opening chapter, told by one of the sisters of the main character, is a prime example of how to write as a character who doesn't know the effect she's having on other people.

However, while I was in the library today, I discovered that there's a new Ian Rankin book out - Saints of the Shadow Bible - in which Rankin not only brings that superb character, John Rebus, back into the force, but stacks him up against Malcolm Fox, the main character in two other recent Rankin titles. (It's very easy to type Ranking instead of Rankin for some reason.)

The book is available on Kindle, of course, so I'm already well into, and poor old Anne will just have to wait now until I've finished it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Patrons needed

Even if you bought an exceptional Michael Kelly guitar at Musicians Friend and made the best album in the world there's no guarantee that the Wider Music World will notice you. I've just been watching a programme on Choice TV which pointed out that some musicians who have music on Spotify have to have up to 125 downloads of one of their tracks before they earn as much as a dollar. It isn't Spotify that's causing this issue, it's the fact that there are an awful lot of musos out there, and they're all chasing your money. Social media is a good way to improve your chances of being heard (as one of the women musicians interviewed discussed), but it takes a fair amount of promotion all the same, and most of that's going to have to be done by you, otherwise that one dollar you've earned will be eaten up by some expensive advertising campaign. And that takes away from your productive music time.

I was talking to one of the older ladies at church (older than me, that is) this morning, and she was telling me about her artist son (he's now in his sixties), and how it's never been easy for him to promote himself. He's had exhibitions and his name is known but that kind of promotion is hard work for him, as it is for many artists. Most artists - musicians, painters, writers etc - need a patron to survive well enough to be able to do their best work. The reality is of course that most musicians, painters, writers etc don't have patrons, and struggle. They have to deal with daily life, real life, and that's another factor that affects their work.

This is a bit of a minor rant, really.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Shadow Line

There are several spoilers here.  Don't read if you're intending to watch the series.

We've watched a British series on DVD over the last week or so.  It's called The Shadow Line, and it was exceptionally gripping.  But also very nasty, and ultimately somewhat unsatisfying, as it killed off the one character who had integrity, and left the villains in charge. There was a point to this, which I'll come to in due course, but after having watched the villains do damage to all and sundry throughout the piece it was disappointing to see them getting away with it still further.

The piece has two stories running in parallel (over seven lengthy episodes), but both intersect at a number of points, and both have come about as a result of something that happened before the story began. The first episode opens with what seems a prolonged look at a dead body in a car.  Two police officers have 'discovered' the body, and the more talkative and more-knowing of the two (David Schofield) seems to have his own peculiar agenda. He plainly knows more than he's letting on, though he gives away a number of hints to the viewer.

We're then introduced to Detective Inspector Jonah Gabriel (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his working partner, Detective Sergeant Lia Honey (Kierston Wareing). The latter is a smart-mouthed, very competent cop, who's not entirely pleased to be working with Gabriel, who, as a result of being shot in the head (the bullet is still lodged in his skull) has had a loss of memory as to what he was doing the night he was shot.

Gabriel's is the main story, and he's the character with integrity, and a passion for the truth. Curiously, as so often happens with characters in modern films who have integrity, he has had a mistress with whom he's had a child - his own wife has had several miscarriages, but is hoping for one last chance at pregnancy. In the film Gabriel - to his credit - anguishes over the fact that he's never revealed the presence of this other woman, and their son, to his wife. At least in that regard he's better than the leading character in Judge John Deed, another series we've been watching, where Deed, the judge who's shown as having enormous integrity on the justice side of things, consistently plays around with various women, including his former wife, his current lady friend, and several others.

The parallel character to Gabriel is soon introduced: Joseph Bede (Christopher Eccleston). He's a wholesale flower seller - on a big scale - and is using his business as a front for drug smuggling. Also on a big scale.  Supposedly he's built up the flower business primarily as a cover for a one-off big deal that will set him up for life, and will enable him to provide constant care for his wife, who has early onset Alzheimer's. But one of the problems with the drugs game, as we see time and again in this story, is that it's a cruel master: Bede finds himself increasingly trapped inside his plan. Several others, both big and small, also come to grief before the series has finished, most of them violently.

The series may be intended to highlight the impossibility of surviving the drugs game (more than one character talks about 'just surviving', and one of the nastiest (Rafe Spall, always on the verge of insanity) says realistically, in the last episode, how he's probably only got twenty years before he'll wind up the same way as all the others), and it's plain that those who have made the big time in drugs live under the tension of being overtaken by the next villain to come along, and plainly don't enjoy the fruits of their labours.

However, this is countermanded by the fact that the corrupt police in the series, of whom there are several, seem to manage to live above the law, and thrive. Their involvement in drugs began as something that was seen as a good, but was achieved by the wrong means. Then the 'rewards' have taken over their lives and they've gone back to the trough time and again. And the chief of these, a man called Gatehouse, (Stephen Rea, in a most chilling performance), manages to manipulate and pull strings and survive assaults, like the devil himself.  He's perhaps the most improbable character, when you reflect on it all, yet Rea gives him such life and personality that you come to believe he could exist. He's utterly treacherous, blatantly murderous, and convinced of his own ability to twist everything  and everyone to his ends, even those who appear to be honest.

The story is utterly convoluted, and has several shocking moments, as well as some we can see coming. Almost no one is who they seem, apart from Gabriel, and he worries a good deal (since he has this memory issue with a very important event) that he may not be the honest man he hopes he is. The curious thing is that even the evil ones tell him he is honest, and that gets up their nose. He's the only one to make Gatehouse think he might have mis-stepped at one point, and that's some achievement.

Hugo Blick wrote the script, and directed and produced the series. (Blick has also been an actor.)  This is a major achievement, because he has filled the series with vivid characters and cast some of the best in the business in the roles. Yes, there are some moments in the story when coincidences pile up a little too high, but the tension created and maintained throughout is extraordinary - I could feel my own nerves on edge during one particular episode - and he continually keeps us guessing as to who is really who.  Some apparently good characters aren't, and some of the evil ones appear to have their moments of sincerity.

Blick's direction can be mannered - but then the best film noir directors are always mannered. That's one of the things that makes these films what they are. A great deal of the time is spent in darkness, or night, or shadows, but even when we venture out into daylight, there's a sinister feel to what we're seeing. We know, for instance, that the journalist on his motorcycle won't make it home, and this is assisted a couple of scenes before by seeing him standing in front of a full-sized photo of T E Lawrence - with his motorbike. But then Blick takes advantage of what we guess by first giving us the journalist and his motorbike a near miss, and then having him vanish into a dip in the road, while a car heads towards him. Nothing happens on the screen for a moment, there's an ominous thump, then the car quietly reappears out of the dip and proceeds. The motorcycle doesn't reappear. Finally we're taken down into the dip to see the journalist incongruously sitting on the road, dying, his bike splattered across the road, and worse, that large farm vehicle he just missed a few minutes before sounds as though it's heading his way. It's a grisly scene, but all done without any bells and whistles, and in spite of our realisation that it's going to be happen, we're still shocked.

Several other scenes shock in different ways. Gatehouse makes his way into at least three houses at different times, and on each occasion we think he's going to murder someone. Nothing ever quite happens as we expect, so that when the actual murders happen, we don't have high-pitched strings playing on the soundtrack to prematurely warn us; the murders come almost out of the blue. When he comes to Peter Glickman's son's house (Glickman is his opposite number in the story, and is absent until about half way through the series) and threatens the man's wife, the whole thing takes on a craziness via a baby monitor that we misunderstand at first. The baby is unharmed, the woman is hysterical - but unharmed - and the only disaster is the dinner burning on the stove, an echo of the soup burning after the murder of the young pregnant mother earlier on.

Then there's the confrontation between Glickman and Gatehouse, in a Dublin clock shop. It has Hitchcock written all over it, right to the point of the explosion that demolishes the place, but not the two villains. (Hitchcock is everywhere through the series, in fact, and is frequently himself put in the shade by Blick's trickery.)  And the near disposal of Gatehouse in the hospital by Glickman's mistress - at least that who she appeared to be until she stabbed Glickman to death - much to our surprise.  This hospital scene is improbable; firstly because we know they say Gatehouse has the heart of a 20-year-old, but he is actually in his sixties and shouldn't have withstood being blown up and shot twice; and secondly how does he know he's about to be done in by the mistress and what method she's going to use?  Where is the policeman outside the door (yup, that's kind of explained later) and how come the nurse doesn't see or hear anything?  Once again Blick turns our expectations on their heads.  If for no other reason than his ability to undercut what we think will happen, Blick should be congratulated for a masterly series.

I didn't like some of the things that happened in it, but it was gripping viewing!


Friday, January 10, 2014

Percussion

Before I started scoring my musical, Grimhilda!, I bought a book on writing for percussion which a friend had recommended.  It arrived as my Christmas present, and I'd no sooner got started on reading it when it vanished. After some months it turned up, in an obvious place, and I finished it...as best I could.

You have to have some sense of what percussion is all about to get the most out of the book, and in the end I stuck to a fairly straightforward set of percussion instruments for the scoring of Grimhilda!  The young percussionist who played the music did very well with it...surpassed my expectations, in fact. 

I was reminded about this while reading some advertising for Vater drums, made by Vater Percussion (as you might expect). They're instruments are top-notch by all accounts and the front page of their website has a list of the top musicians who have recently begun using their equipment.

To go back to the percussion book...some of the instruments written about I'd never heard of, and if I've actually heard them, I wouldn't be able to tell you. Many film scores these days use a lot of relatively exotic percussion instruments, so it's possible some of those that seemed foreign to me weren't, in fact. The book could have done with a CD on which there were examples of each of the instruments but I guess the publishers thought that might add considerably to the expense.

At this point I don't have plans for another musical, though I have thought about it. If and when I do write one, I'll probably have to go through the book again, though of course, it's all very well writing for exotic instruments. Finding the actual instruments in the city is another matter altogether.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Breathing Lessons

Finished Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons last night. It's the fourth of her books I've read recently, and is perhaps a bit different from the others. In it a husband (Ira) and wife (Maggie) journey to a small village to attend the funeral of a friend's husband.  The first long sequence involves the journey to the funeral - not actually a long distance - and the funeral itself.  By the time Tyler has filled us in on a great deal of the couple's background, mostly seen from the wife's point of view (and she's not the most reliable character when it comes to the truth, we gradually discover) and the craziness of the funeral itself, we're a good third of the way through the book. On the return journey they have an encounter with an old man who's driving erratically. Because of Maggie's foolishness they wind up having to drive the old man to a garage where his son gives them all a few home truths. The last large section of the book entails Maggie attempting, on the journey home, to bring her son and former daughter-in-law back together again, by inviting the latter to come home with them for the weekend. Along with Fiona, the daughter-in-law (about whom we already know a great deal - or think we do) comes Leroy (a girl, in spite of her name).  Maggie's continual 'interfering' and slight shifting of the truth causes havoc yet again, and the book ends on a somewhat sad note.

This brief synopsis of the book, however, gives little of its merit. Maggie is a wonderful character who drives both the reader and other characters mad - at times. She can be guaranteed to put a spin on things that will warp the way the world goes. It's all small-scale stuff, as it always is in the Tyler universe, but it's all stuff that's reflects other people's ordinary lives, away from the superpowers and wars and massive tragedies of the news. Maggie is loveable, but she's also irritating, contrary, quick to take offence and quick to realise it, and slow to understand her inability to leave things alone and let them get on with their own course.

Ira is a more down to earth person, disappointed in his life in many ways because his youthful ambitions were thwarted by a selfish family who has forced him to take over the family business and care for them. He sees the truth of things more readily, but has to contend with Maggie's version of it, and this often produces a clash.

Every so often someone stands up and says what needs to be said, even though it may be painful. Even Maggie manages this on a rare occasion. But for the most part the characters struggle through ridiculous misunderstandings, reversals, moments of affection and love, and crises so small that the world would never take note of them. Yet every one of these rings bells with our own lives, our own marriages. Tyler has a wonderful ability to make things recognisable.  Time and again, you find yourself saying as your read...Yup, been there, done that.

And surrounding the main characters are a host of beautifully drawn and strong-minded minor players, from Leroy (a seven-year-old) who turns out not to be what we've been led to believe and has a mind of her own, to Serena, the newly-widowed friend who organises her husband's funeral along the lines of her wedding day, to the old black man, Otis, who rather than being appalled at the way Maggie has treated him, manages to agree with her at every point, making her situation even worse. Ira's family of crocks includes a father who's basically decided that he's too old and sick to bother any more, though he could be faking; his two sisters, one of whom perhaps has a mental handicap and the other who has a phobia about going outside - unless she's dressed as someone else.

Tyler can write wonderful scenes, rich in incident and character and atmosphere, scenes that extend over many pages without flagging. She has a singular skill with dialogue: words twist and turn even while the characters are saying them. And she can bring humour out of the most hopeless-seeming episodes, or thoughts. I'm tempted to get a Kindle copy of this book just so I can highlight all the wonderful moments when I almost laughed out loud.

Two Chinese Movies

Watched not one, but two, Chinese movies last night. Almost subtitled out.

The first, Little Big Soldier, was one I picked up from the library, and stars the inimitable Jackie Chan, who was still performing his own stunts (he was 56 at the time), and continues - if the out-takes are anything to go by - to notch up endless injuries, minor and major. Over the years, apparently, Chan has dislocated his pelvis and also broken numerous parts of body including his fingers, toes, nose, both cheekbones, hips, sternum, neck, ankle, and ribs. He almost died during the filming of The Armour of God, when he fell from a tree and fractured his skull.

The story is supposed to take place around 50 BC (if I read the subtitles rightly) at a time when half a dozen major tribal forces in China had dominated all other smaller groups and were fighting each other for ultimate control. Chan stars in this film with Leehom Wang. Wang plays the General of one vast army, the only man left after an incredible slaughter in which not only is his army annihilated but the opposing one is too.Chan plays a farmer conscripted into the opposing army some twenty years before; he's been trying to desert and get back home ever since because he is the only one of his family line left.

Somewhat to his surprise, Chan captures Wang and intends taking him back to his homeland as a hostage in order to receive a reward that will fund his life as a farmer. The journey back to Liang is fraught with perils, of course, most nastily from Wang's brother who wants him dead so that he can take over leadership. The brother is a somewhat effete character who has a scary habit of shooting people with a small crossbow he uses with just one hand. His lieutenant is an ugly character whose face would give children nightmares. But besides these two and their cohorts, there is a girl who occasionally causes problems, a rag-tag group who try to capture the duo, a grizzly bear, a brutal gang of slavers and possibly some others I've forgotten.

The story has a serious undertone, and ends tragically (this is a bit of a surprise, but it fits to the underlying theme). Being a Jackie Chan movie it also has plenty of harum-scarum fights with all sorts of legitimate and not-so-legitimate weaponry, and plenty of humour between the serious-minded Wang and the optimistic Chan. The scenery is magnificent (China has some remarkable landscapes) and the story zips along at a rollicking pace.

The other movie is a different kettle of fish altogether. It's operatic in tone - or maybe that should be soap-operatic. The actors play up the intensity for all its worth, and until about two-thirds of the way through this intensity serves a reasonable story. Then suddenly it goes off the rails and becomes total nonsense. The film is The Curse of the Golden Flower, directed by Yimou Zhang who comes with some pretty good credentials in regard to earlier films.

The story concerns the Emperor (of China? - or just some part of it; I'm not sure). He has returned home after some sortie, and seems to know what everybody's been doing while he's away.  His second wife has been having an affair with her stepson, though the latter prefers the daughter of the Palace doctor - who, incidentally, is slowly poisoning the Empress at the Emperor's behest. The Crown Prince has also come home (there's a major celebration in the offing), and is plotting something sinister, and the third son, who seems a pleasant and somewhat innocent young man, also has hidden depths. With a family like this you can barely win. And then the first wife turns up, even though she's supposed to be dead, and is discovered to be the mother of...Oh, for goodness sake! About this point it gets absurd.

You'd never watch it for the story, which has more than its fair share of flaws that the director slides quickly over. But by way of compensation he offers us one of the most visually-stunning films ever made. Remember the visual richness of The King and I, way back in the 50s? Well, notch that up a dozen times and you have the feast for the eye that is Golden Flower. From the moment it opens with a hundred or so servant women dressing in unison in the morning, it shows just what money can buy when it comes to filmmaking. This film was the most expensive movie ever made in China at the time, and it's obvious in every shot. Not only are there excesses of extras, all sumptuously dressed, but the major players all wear fantastic garments over the top of other garments, all of which are embroidered and bejewelled and dazzling in their colours. (It must have taken them half the working day to get dressed.) Then there is the scenery: this palace is startlingly beautiful in its colourings. The walls shimmer translucently, carpets abound in detailed patterns, furniture is carved to the max, lighting is full of colour and contrast. The main Palace set was the biggest ever built in China, and it shows, with its terraces and stairs and immense courtyards (the main one - the size of several football fields - is literally covered with yellow chrysanthemums not once, but twice in the final three-quarters of an hour).

As a Bollywood film must have its song and dance sequences, so a Chinese film must have its martial arts, and these are abundant, from the power-struggle between the Emperor and the Crown Prince at the beginning to later large-scale battles. One superb moment has Ninja-type characters descending on wires from enormous cliffs above a small settlement and landing on the roofs. At the end we have an extraordinary battle between three or four different armies (I got a bit muddled after midnight), each of them in full battle armour, and in such close formation that their weaponry seems as likely to cause friendly fire as to dispose of the enemy. Unfortunately this battle

arrives after things have got very silly, and itself seems rather daft. You've lost any idea of which army belongs to which character by this stage, apart from the one the Crown Prince is leading.

It's a pity such a film should totter on its weak story.  Otherwise this would be a classic piece of better-than-Hollywood filmmaking.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Petition regarding video game

I don't usually copy and post email newsletters that come to me, mostly because of copyright issues, but in this case I don't think the organisers will have any concern with me posting the following:

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has been working for weeks now to get the grotesque "Slaying of Sandy Hook" video game removed from the Internet.  Prior to the one-year annivesary of the Newtown tragedy on December 14, 2012, we contacted the three websites still hosting the game and asked them to delete it from their servers. Despite getting a verbal commitment from one website host to do so, none have done so as of today.
With over 11,600 names on our petition to have the game deleted (including yours), it's time to turn up the heat on those who continue to host "The Slaying of Sandy Hook" video game. That's why I'm asking you to email the following three website hosts to tell them to remove the game from their servers immediately:
Website: swfchan
Admin Name: Mackan Zoor
Email: mikper56@gmail.com
Website: swfcabin
Adminstrator: Pascal Smeets
Email: p.w.m.smeets@gmail.com
Website: Game Jolt
Administrator Name: David DeCarmine
Email: hworld@holo-world.com
Feel free to use the following template for your email:
Dear ______,
I am contacting you because your website, swfchan, is currently hosting the video game, “The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary.”  I have signed a petition calling on the creator of the game, Ryan Jake Lambourn, and websites like yours that are hosting it, to permanently remove it from the internet.  So far the petition has been signed by more than 11,600 Americans:
http://csgv.org/action/tell-animator-newtown-massacre-game/
Ryan Jake Lambourn claims on his website that he is a supporter of tighter firearm regulation and intended his game to be a tool in service of that goal. I hope you can see that in this case, however, that the graphic and violent nature of the game is not helpful, but instead very hurtful to the survivors of that tragedy (and other gun-related massacres).
I am not trying to squelch your right to free speech or impinge on your business.  I am reaching out to you simply as one human being to another and asking if you would consider removing “The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary” from your website in order to spare some good people unnecessary pain during a very hard time.
Thank you very much.
There is no room in civil society to glorify mass shooting atrocities as entertainment and inflict unnecessary pain on survivors who are still grieving over the loss of their loved ones. We have heard personally from several survivors who find this game offensive and damaging. Enough is enough.
Thank you for your continued help in this campaign. If we stand together and keep the heat on, I am confident we can prevail and do right by those who lost so much at Newtown.
Sincerely,

Josh Horwitz
Executive Director
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

If you agree with this, perhaps you could send these websites an email too.