Thursday, January 31, 2008

New song in the bar to the left

This is a depressing song by Radiohead called "No Surprises". It is about sleepily, sheepily letting the man walk all over you until you die. The lyrics can be found here.

I figured it would be fun to put my vocal microphone through the effects pedal and see what I could do. Mostly I am playing with vibrato and fiddling with the delay with one hand while holding the mike with the other. I recorded two vocal tracks.

I am also messing with a pitch shifter, which is a cheap way to turn a six-string guitar into something that plays two octaves at once, a poor man's twelve-string.

By the way, it's on OK Computer, a no-brainer way to buy one of the best albums of the 1990s.

I would be failing you if I didn't post the real version as well. The video features the lead singer of Radiohead, who is, or was, claustrophobic and afraid of drowning.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Record 1, McCain 0

I have been hearing about John McCain, so a quick reminder. Far from being a maverick, he has pandered relentlessly in his quest for the presidency. However, the popular press has a short attention span. I direct you to Exhibit A and Exhibit B.

Exhibit C:

And just for fun:

I used to like John McCain
But now he gives me a pain.
He was a Bush critic
But it seems to this cynic
He’s switched his positions for gain.

His opposition to torture
Is open to forfeiture
For embracing Gitmo George.

He’ll reform campaign finance
Unless if by some chance
There’s a banquet at which he can gorge.

And suddenly the religious right
Is dandy in his new light
Of forgetting when they were his scourge.

Nobody should misconstrue
His new affection for W.
John’s running for president,
Meaning values once resident
Have all been flushed down the loo.

--Lee Wochner

Life 1, Dan 0.

Well, it's been a while again.

My mother-in-law came to visit. Alex had really been missing his Mimi. It made all of us miss Sarah's family in Utah. Everyone wanted to be back together again. We took a nice trip downtown to The Tattered Cover (one of the better bookstores in the state, so I'm told).

Alex is enjoying a lot of Sesame Street characters now, especially Elmo. We've been getting him books and watching the show more. He's learning to count from them. In one particular show, The Count is out, so Ernie fills in for him. However, after Ernie finishes counting, there's no melodramatic thunder or lightning flash, so Ernie has to do his own effects. "Eight... Nine... Ten! Ah ah ah! ... Uh... THUNDER! LIGHTNING!" Now when Alex counts, he says it and we say it. It really cracks him up.

He can also do most of his alphabet, and he's up to subject-verb-object syntax. Of course, it's stuff like "I love Elmo" and "I play soap", but it's been a marked improvement.

Sarah and I have been pleased to find a church. Check it out at Personally, they had me at Caedmon's Call concert (a Christian band, that plays acoustic and world music). One of Alex's classmates goes there with his family, and after the mom found out from Sarah that we were still church-hunting, we figured we'd give it a try. For the past couple of weeks, we've enjoyed their service. There is a young married people-type sunday school class during the second service, so we'll try that next time.

It has been a bit exhausting trying to live without that kind of community, without meeting people regularly. The best I have done is bonding with the guys at work. Our families and faraway friends have been valuable in this respect.

My dad turned 49 yesterday, and we spent a very pleasant conversation on DDR, memory and the neural networks of the brain, his new classroom, and such. I gave my DDR setup to my mom. It turned out I couldn't play it after Alex went to bed because it was too noisy, so there was no good time to work out. Mom is going to town on it, getting Bs on songs. My cousins Riley and Shay come to stay with my parents, and it turns out that the best babysitter is DDR. They're about... I want to say 10 and 8, but that might be wrong. Anyhow, Dad reports that tiring them out has become very easy because they play the dance game 3 hours a day during their visits... this boggles my mind.

Dad always wants us to come back to Seattle. He hasn't had a crack at his grandson yet, but they miss us too. I suppose if I got the right offer, I could see it... Sarah wants to get settled here so Alex can go to school and life stays a little predictable, though, so it would have to be a pretty big improvement on the status quo.

I finished another Discworld book by Terry Pratchett. This was #2, The Light Fantastic. It is almost pointless to tell you the plot. However, it's just great for what it is, which is humorous fantasy satire with a playful philosophical nugget at the core.

I also ripped through V for Vendetta the comic, once again. I basically read it all in one sitting. It is hard to read the glib protestations of V now that he was 'liberating' Evey without a bit of a chill. The point of the story in general is that the proper answer to tyranny is violence, that violence can be a tool of the liberator who the government calls the terrorist, and that destruction, not conciliation, is the proper response to this. Along the way, V kills instruments of the state, but also causes, directly or indirectly, the deaths of many more people. His motives are also very murky, in that he is not just carrying out a program of asymmetric insurgency, but also prosecuting a vendetta. He is a serial killer, but he is the hero of the story. The story in the comic books is violent, but not very gory. Aside from the somewhat goofy storyline where the AI computer controls the country, it is very powerful. So, once again, I strongly recommend you read it.

Quicksilver, a historickal tale of science and piracy set at the dawn of the Age of Newton, has been going really well. It is insightful, and big somehow, and rollicking hilarious. It shines a light from a very interesting angle on our contemporary situation. It came from an unexpected quarter, written by a science-fiction author of high distinction. It's bawdy and violent and ludicrous, but also amazing.

I finally got started learning GNU Emacs. World beware.

Also, Arc, a new programming language has hit the web. I am following this development with great interest. This is the goal:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Music thingy

As you may not be aware if you don't actually visit the front page of the blog (seriously, people, RSS; feed readers; look it up), I stuck an mp3 player on the top, to the left. I figured out that as a dude with a Google email address, I have 100 MB of free space available for me to upload files or make web pages at I don't know if there's a bandwidth cap, but the way these things work is, if enough people start hammering your website to download your music, the website can become profitable through text ads. So I'm not worried for the time being.

Don't Need Anything is the first song in there right now. It's the finale of an anarchist musical, or so I hear, by the lead singer from Toad the Wet Sprocket, but it has also made a great lullaby for Alex that I've sung many a time. Please forgive my nonexistent mixing ability, as well as the stray bad note here and there.

The second song is what you get when you stick a drum machine with a looping chord progression on one track, and then a guitarist comes back from the dead and plays the guitar like a zombie and clicks through the presets on the pedal while recording on the other track. It's also what you get when you hand a crappy lead guitar player a multi-effects pedal. If we shadows have offended, etc., etc.

I often record random noodling onto the computer, just like writers will warm up by writing random stuff. Most writers, however, have the good sense not to publish theirs. I am also listening for sweet music in the middle of noise, and once in a while a riff will be useful to me later.

All the sounds on both songs come out of the one pedal, which may be of some interest to you if you've never thought about how guitar effects work. What the pedal does is simulate more complicated setups where each step performs a different transformation on the audio signal coming through. You can get almost anything out of your guitar if you can come up with the recipe. I haven't even experimented with creating my own effects yet, so stay tuned.

I finished a few books. It's pretty hard to talk about Spook Country, the latest novel by William Gibson. His previous novel was one of the best books I've read in a long time, so that bar was set pretty high. Gibson's book was a very interesting take on what kind of world we are living in. The various characters move in and out of worlds that are invisible to common perception. The idea is that these things are in their infancy, though, and might become just as real, if not more real, than our quotidian existence. So there are spies and surveillance as well as virtual reality and real world articles tagged with metadata (spimes). The funny thing about this kind of book is that it's not exactly extrapolative science fiction any more. To get the sf thrills and sensawunda, you have to think about where all this is going. In a more traditional sf book, the author would just show you. I thought it was thought-provoking and entertaining, but I don't think I would call it moving, like I would some of his other work.

I also read Dies the Fire by SM Stirling. Dad bought it for me while he was here. This is a story of America (really, Oregon) after an apocalypse: in a flash, causes TBD, electricity and gunpowder stop working for good. Then, tons of people die because they don't know how to survive (and they're stuck in urban areas). The book tells the story of the survivors, who get medieval and communal in a hurry. It was a very interesting idea, and was pretty well thought out. One thing I always wondered about The Stand was what would happen when the food ran out (years after the end of the story). Which it would. This book goes there. It revolves around food in a way that really surprised me. Change of subject, one of the main characters is a Wiccan. I didn't know much about their religion (except the really basic stuff you pick up here and there), so I was interested in the window on that culture. It's not a classic book, but it's fun (if at times a bit gory and sweary).

And I finished another one by the master, Philip K. Dick. What's he the master of? Well, writing like Philip K. Dick, for one, that's why they named an award after him. I guess he's the master of mind-bending, of reality confusion, of paranoia, of the low and untidy corners of society. This one was called Lies, Inc. (originally, The Unteleported Man). Dick wrote this in a fertile period, when he wrote ten novels in two years.

In the story, a dystopian Earth is overpopulated, and attempts at colonizing the solar system have essentially failed. Light-speed ships exist, but only one habitable planet has been found. Then comes the invention of instant teleportation. A channel from Earth to the colony planet opens, and people start going to the colony planet. The only catch is that it's a one way trip. There's no way back to Earth.

A neurotic man who owns a light-speed ship starts to suspect that something is rotten in the colony, that a powerful conspiracy is controlling the colony for its own purposes, and decides to spend 18 years traveling to the colony in his ship, so he can return and report on its true nature. Even before he leaves, he is essentially hallucinating. And when he gets there... well, you'd just have to read it. I haven't taken acid but I feel confident that the experience was set down in print in this book. And it only gets weirder from there.

The setting, the characters, the language were top-notch, and I found the resolution very well done, very fair. It cleared up the book a lot, but I have a lot more to reconstruct as far as what was actually going on while I was reading the craziness. I even started rereading it from the beginning. I don't know if I'll go all the way again, but it certainly commanded my attention. Nothing very graphic, except for the drug trips, call it adult themes and disturbing images. Definitely worth your time, if you turn pro when the going gets weird.

Up next, an sf parody by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #2, The Light Fantastic), Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe, and Mt. Baroque Cycle. Oh, and Lord of the Rings. I'll be busy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Last Christmas gift

Between a couple of parents and parents in law, I got my hands on a multi-effects guitar pedal. For poor people like me without enough $ for an amplifier, distortion pedal, flanger, chorus, etc. etc., this is the best imitator I could find. I can record it into the computer, so now my recordings can get a little more interesting. So far, I've found something that sounds kind of like a twelve-string, something that adds a couple of octaves and another thing that takes me down a couple of octaves (it is hard to hear the low note on that one), stuff that sounds like alien noises and blips and U2, and all kinds of fuzzy stuff to rock out to. Needless to say, when I start actually editing the presets, there are going to be fireworks.

I will try to add something soon. I am looking at hosting mp3s on our Comcast account, then putting a little player in the blog so you can hear them.

And now, because I just can't go another day without unleashing more Radiohead on you, here's the amazing video for "Jigsaw Falling Into Place". They recently played this in their studio with helmet cams that were pointed directly at their faces. This looks pretty normal until they start moving their heads.

For a more low-key two-person version, a study in contrast, check out this one with lead singer Thom Yorke, and lead wizard Jonny Greenwood on the Ondes Martenot.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It's been a busy couple of weeks

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! My family has been visiting in Denver: Mom, Dad, and Rachel. We have been busy not being busy: going to the bookstore, playing Nintendo together, going to movies, eating my dad's cooking, and generally having a great holiday.

I read The Hobbit, which you should also read, and I got some great book recommendations for my dad. I'm ready to scale Mt. Baroque Cycle soon, and some more Gene Wolfe, Lord of the Rings, and more!

The most interesting part of the week has been family devotional time. Mom came up with it. All of us will have taken a night, through tomorrow. We've talked about whether God is fair, how we should worship a child-God, about the difficulty of prayer and church discipline. I will try to get to these in blog posts.

Dad wants me to create a book-group-creating/management web site. My cursory investigations have not yielded a similar service on the internet.

Cheers to all of you!