Monthly Archives: October 2011

io9 Meetup Last Friday

Last Friday I went along to the io9 meetup at Borderland Cafe and Bookstore on Valencia. I’ve been to one of these before, and I knew it was lots of fun, so I made sure to go this time. is the SciFi/Science blog from the Gawker empire, and a regular read of mine. The cafe is pretty cool, and I’ve been there before to see readings and signings by William Gibson and Charles Stross.

After a bit of a mixup on the Muni (due to poor signage!) causing me to walk several blocks in the warm evening, I made it to the cafe in desperate need of an iced green tea and a snickerdoodle cookie – very nice. Then I was in a state to start saying hello. I got chatting to some people who were discussing the upcoming combat robot tournament, and we talked about the old Robot Wars TV show in the UK, and how there was basically an arms race which accelerated from week to week. This led into a discussion based on the recent article in the New York Review of Books about military robots, and when human control gives over to full autonomy. Who pulled the trigger? The pilot? What if there is no pilot? The software engineer? This of course led into a review of the movie Stealth with Jamie Foxx – a strange comedown after his Oscar win with Ray. We agreed the plane film was shite.

I also got talking to io9’s editor-in-chief Annalee Newitz, looking good as a resident of The Village, and also to Charlie Anders, the site’s managing editor. I somehow managed to get talking about the California High-Speed Train Project that I’m working on (can’t imagine how that happened), and we got onto the subject of trains and mass transit in scifi and fantasy. Maybe we’ll see a post up there soon about it. I was able to come up with various obvious and obscure appearances of trains in the genres, so we’ll see.

After the cafe, a bunch of us trooped up the road to Frjtz, which I can’t pronounce and which serves Belgian beer, fries’n’mayo and various other Gallic delicacies. I enjoyed a brew and some fries with curry ketchup (reminded me of my time in Germany) and chatted with various people before heading home. Fun night.

A Shirt’s Tail

Cassie and I have this ongoing “discussion” about whether I should tuck my shirts in. Yesterday was Casual Friday, so the issue was on my mind again. Casual Friday is an institution which has been abolished and reinstated a couple of times by my company, as senior management changes, and new brooms like to attempt social engineering and put their feet down/loosen up alternately. Rather like reorganising by discipline or by market – which will it be?

It’s surprising how divisive this issue can be, and how strongly I and other people feel about it. I have some pretty firm views. I don’t want the “dress shirt, tails out, boot-cut jeans and square toe shoes” look – that reminds me too much of what we used to call “townies” in Bedford. That look reminds me of slightly older men going out on “the pull”, and I don’t identify with it or like it. The next level of that is wearing a shirt with french cuffs and cufflinks, untucked with jeans. Not my thing at all – and it surprises me that I have to explain why I find it repellent.

Sadly that image does seem to have sunk in as the cool look in certain circles. In movies and TV shows, you might have two guys – one is “uptight”, whereas the other is “cool”. The cool one has stubble, untucks his shirt, gets the ladeez, and is played by Bradley Cooper.

I did a bit of a search and found that there is a lot of discussion on the menswear and style blogs about it. In the comments I’ve read, some people say tucking in your shirt is a “Euro” affectation. Others say untucking it is a “Euro” affectation. In both these cases, I think there’s more than a touch of the good old American stereotype of the Euro-male as being at best too consicous of clothes, and at worst, a screaming bender. Racist homophobia, in other words, yay!

I wish I could say tucking in was a UK thing, or a Euro thing. But I’ve had this same ongoing discussion with girlfriends in the past in the UK. I remember one formative incident, being encouraged to go out wearing khakis and a dress shirt, untucked. It was at a party in a bar, with a karaoke competition run by a flamboyant (and bitchy) gay guy. I did a song (as did everyone else), and as I was walking off the the stage, the MC said, “Big hand for Matt there! Check him out – he’s one cool customer with his shirt out!”, or something like it. It really stung, not least because we had the shirt-in-or-out argument before we went out. I bloody knew it. Scarred for life.

Some people say that men who don’t tuck their shirts in aren’t paying attention, or they don’t care about their appearance. Many men who leave their shirts untucked say that they consciously do it so they don’t want to appear stuffy or square. But they then go on to project that belief onto everyone else, and it’s sad. Some say that tucking in is an affectation. Others say that untucking is an affectation. The word affectation has a big effect on me. I oscillate wildly between sneerily dismissing things as an affectation, and being guilty of it myself. It’s a personal foible, related to my fierce dislike of judgement, and my thorough enjoyment of judging.

This chap writes 4 reasons not to tuck in, and pretty much raises all the old ghosts about looking square and tightly wound. Let’s take them one at a time (excuse the paraquoting):

  • “Most shirts aren’t cut to flatter when tucked in” – get shirts that fit, and they will flatter.
  • “Never tuck in a t-shirt” – off the point, but I agree.
  • “Never tuck in a jersey” (by which he means a sports team top” – again, off the point, but I agree. I’d never wear a jersey anyway, ‘cos I couldn’t give two shits about sport.
  • “Never tuck in a sweater” – off the point, but I agree.

He rounds up with

It’ll convey a relaxed attitude. An effortless ease. A hipper approach to life.

…to which I’d say, “If your definition of hip is untucking your shirt and hanging around ‘pulling’ in Mick’s Tavern, then call me Peewee Herman.” I’d also take issue with the misnaming of the article. It should be “One Reason I Don’t Like Tucking In My Shirt, And Three Other Items Of Clothing You Shouldn’t Tuck In”.

But it’s the comments that really get me. There’s men and women on both sides of the argument, and some corkers, especially the ones perpetuating the old classic thing of “get with it, Grandad, only nerds tuck in”.

The same website published a rebuttal by another writer, which went some way to correcting the previous one, but said some pretty wrong things along the way – such as “always wear a belt”. He did make some good points about finding shirts that fit you. Obvious, you’d think, except that the previous article had given the fit of “most” shirts as a reason to leave them out. Then Details called untucking “jejune” and “desperate”.

For me, the question of whether a shirt should be tucked or untucked comes down to two things: opinion and rules. Of course, these two things cover pretty much every possible situation, so let’s break it down.

First off, what do we mean by “shirt”? In this case, I’m talking about “casual” shirts. But let’s look at each kind of thing that could be called a shirt and say whether it should be tucked (in my opinion, backed up by many writers on men’s fashion).

Never tuck it in.
Polo shirt (like a t-shirt with a collar and a couple of buttons)
Never tuck it in. Even when the back of it has a longer tail. It should do, because they’re designed for when you’re playing polo. Much like the chukka boot.
Dress shirt
Always tuck it in.Under a suit coat or blazer? Tuck it in, no question.
It’s worth clarifying some terms here. A “button-down” shirt is a shirt with a button-down collar. That’s the official definition anyway, and it’s telling that much of the writing that advises against tucking describes a button-down as a shirt with buttons down the front. It suggests that the dress shirt is now a special kind of shirt, rather than the default. This is a nice piece about the history of the real “button-down”.
(Of course, the other end of that is the insistence on calling shirts “shirting” and suits “suiting”, as if trying to evoke an image of your own tailor, with rolls of fabric in a rack behind him, rolling out some shirting for you and cutting it to size. After that you go to the grocery store and buy some “fooding” – perhaps some “cheesing” and “vegetabling”. To quote Count Arthur Strong, “It’s not cheap, curtainin’!”)
Casual shirt
Depends. If it has long tails, tuck it in. If it has a flat bottom, or a slight curve to the bottom, then leave it out. Shirts are made differently depending on whether they’re designed to be tucked in or not. As stated by Put This On: “…we’re generally in favor of tucking in your shirt. It’s a cleaner, sharper look that is much better suited to layering. If you do wear an untucked shirt, though, it’s important to wear one that’s cut to be left untucked.”

Of course, once again it all comes down to doing what you like, and not caring about what people think. But having my shirt tails hanging out isn’t because I’m worried about what other people think – it’s about what I think, and what kind of person I look like.

You may be observing the level of sartorial baggage I carry. “Loosening up” isn’t going to fix that. I also carry a little baggage of another kind – the kind that, if I wore my shirt untucked, would make me look like a 70’s darts player. Nuff said.

Cosmic Siren

I prefer the back with the triumphant statues

Back cover of said album.

I’ve got the ancient hard-drive-based iPod on shuffle, and it just played Space is Deep by veteran cosmic travellers Hawkwind, off their 1972 album Doremi Fasol Latido. It reminded me of my brother’s early efforts in circuit bending.

Circuit bending” is the practise of taking a piece of electronics capable of making a sound, and then messing with it so it makes a different sound. Some may say the new sound is a hideous cacophony. I say no.

The opening of the song has some spacey babbling synths over the gentle acoustic guitars. When I was a kid, I had a toy “laser gun”, which lit up and made a noise when you pulled the trigger. The noise could be changed by twisting a knob on the side, and Si noticed that you could make the noise sound quite a lot like the early synths on the record. Literally minutes of fun ensued.

OK, not really much circuit bending – but it is amazing to think that some crazy huge modular synth used by the band in 1972 could be reasonably emulated by a plastic toy less than ten years later. Almost wish I still had it. There’s probably an app.

While we’re talking about cosmic stuff and comic-book imagery, I’m going along to the meetup at San Francisco’s Borderlands bookstore and cafe this evening. Should be fun. I shall report.

EFF New Digs

Yesterday evening I went along to the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s new building for the Fall 2011 Speakeasy, which was an excuse to show off their new location, and share the plans for what they will be doing. It’s a building along Mission Street, which used to be a bridal shop, and the top floor was what can only be described as an “independent specialist film studio”, complete with built-in jacuzzi, some form of platform bed with power and network connections, and glass-brick shower. There was a couple of kegs, buffet snacks, and a tour of the place, complete with basement under the sidewalk with those glass bricks to let in light that you see when you walk above. Couple of mysterious structures as well, like the chute from the sidewalk (probably for deliveries), and the steep wooden steps which led up to the ceiling. There was also that old covered well, but we were told not to open that, no matter what we heard.

Saw my friend Rebecca, EFF’s Media Relations Director, and fellow East Bay resident, and we got talking to a journalist from the Bay Citizen, who said he used to write about the issues EFF is concerned about, but now writes about public tranportation. He was very interested to see my California High-Speed Rail lapel pin, so I had to be careful about what I said – joking, he was very nice, very pro-rail, and keen to see it succeed.

I don’t read paper newspapers, but having checked it out, the Bay Citizen turns out to be a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, member-supported news organization dedicated to promoting innovation in journalism”. I’ll add it to my feeds and make sure I keep up with stuff.

If will be great for EFF to have their own place – they rent at the moment, and they’re running out of space. I compare it to the situation we had with the Carlton Dramatic Society, where we had to book rooms in the community centre to rehearse in, rent the theatre for huge amounts, get in and out of the theatre in a short time, rent a garage lockup for costumes, and generally scrape together everything. Compare that to other groups which had their own space, with rehearsal, storage, and even simple performance spaces – it makes the life of a group so much easier.

There will be particular challenges for the remodelling (apart from getting the stains out and painting over the exotic murals). Because of the large amnount of legal advice given by the group, there will have to be many small offices to allow the lawyers to talk to clients in private. There will also be open work spaces and all the usual modern work features, as well as (hopefully) a light well in the center.

Work is going to take at least a year, and lots of money of course. The reason they need new digs is because they are growing, and the reason they are growing is that they are needed more than ever. So donate! Become a member! See you at the next Speakeasy!

The Pascal’s Wager Of Wearing A Suit

I wear a suit to work most days. I started doing this more since moving to the US. When preparing for my wedding I became much more interested in clothes, and this seems to have coincided with and inspired by the current wave of menswear blogs (and tumblrs and whatevers) focussing on quality, fit and classic style rather than trends and the fashions of the moment.

Judging by the stuff I read, wearing a suit is seen by many as a bit of a statement. “Why are you dressed up, are you in court today?”. “Why are you dressed up? You don’t have to, it’s in the dress code”. I don’t actually get any comments like that, but it does seem to be an issue for many.

Am I making an unconcious Sartorial Pascal’s Wager? By wearing a suit, or otherwise dressing up, and claiming to do it because I want to and because I feel good doing it, am I also submitting to the “dress up to get ahead” doctrine? If you have a choice of “dressing well”/”dressing up” or not, in a culture where opinions vary widely about what it says about  you, why not just dress up, feel good, and get the (unconfirmed and possible entirely anecdotal) benefits to boot?

It’s not like I wear amazing suits – I get them from Macy’s and perhaps Nordstrom when I’m feeling flush. That reminds me, I need a navy one to fill a gap.

laughingsquid: Star Wars Alphabet  Is it sad that I can name…


Star Wars Alphabet

 Is it sad that I can name most of these? Or sad that I can only name most of these?

Changing Passwords

My colleague was complaining about having to change her work PC password again – it’s set to make you change it every 90 days or something. It can be a little annoying, thinking of a new variation on the password model you’ve been using since 2005 without repeating yourself, but I understand the need for it. My colleague on the other hand was moaning about “why can’t they let us keep our passwords the same?”

I thought about trying to explain it, but realised it would be too complex, especially if I went into the detail of how I manage all my passwords. It’s frustrating. To some people, I could just say, “I use KeePass, with the data file held in my Dropbox“. They would know what I mean.

KeePass is an app for managing your passwords. I have a version on my Android phone, a version on my laptop, the same X version on Cassie’s Macbook (which is rapidly becoming the main machine in the house), and the Windows Portableapps version running on my work machine. They all access the data file containg all my passwords which is held in my Dropbox. Works great, and it’s easy to bring it up and add stuff.

But there are three levels of explanation required.

  1. You need to change your passwords. It’s important because…
  2. There are tools available. They are…
  3. There are other tools available that make the above tools easier.

It was easier to just say, “Yeah…”

As for Cassie’s Macbook being the primary device, that is a little annoying for Cassie. I wish I could justofy the expense of getting a shiny new Ubuntu-dedicated laptop. A System 76 Gazelle, for example, or for the local touch, a ZaReason Strata Pro, made just up the road in Berkeley.

We especially “need” to get our home data sorted out. A RAID-enabled NAS, I think. That would help Cassie get the filmaking going again as well. Lots of external drives involved in that. Need expert advice…

Self-documentation and Nostalgia for the Present


The glorious featureless grooved monolith of Embarcadero Substation, Folsom & Fremont. Taken using Camera Zoom FX on Android

The glorious featureless grooved monolith of Embarcadero Substation, Folsom & Fremont. Taken using Camera Zoom FX on Android

The Faux-Vintage Photo: Full Essay Parts I, II and III » Cyborgology.

This is a very interesting discussion of the possibility that the trend for

When I was in my late teens, and we used to have house parties when our parents were away, people would always be snapping photos at the party of the Strongbow-fueled teen excess. It would be a cheap 35mm camera, of course, and then in the next few days, people would take the film to get developed. There would often be a meetup later on to go through the photos of the party. I guess the modern equivalent is checking your Facebook feed the morning after.

The yearning for this faux-vintage, gritty look of photos could be said to be another manifestation of the belief in “real” experiences, artifacts and media. I’ve written about this before, and I keep meaning to write something more solid.

This article on The Awl says that “Your Beautiful Pictures Are Stupid“. I think that is an overstatement, and a symptom of a reaction to the ubiquity of these pictures. Certainly, there are a lot of them out there. People do take the pictures they make, and by extension themselves, very seriously indeed.

My take on it is do what you want, enjoy what you create, and don’t be taken in by the notion that process is more important than results*. Jump on a bandwagon if you want. Or don’t. Good examples that catch people’s eye will shine through no matter what.

*My recent efforts in “creating” “music” have been based on this idea. Er, look out!

Wedding Music – Afterparty Playlist

After the wedding venue closed up, we invited those who wanted to continue the party to our suite overlooking the Bellagio fountains. I quickly sat and threw together this playlist (all the while being told off for “being on the computer”).

Elvis Costello And The Attractions : Accidents Will Happen
Meat Beat Manifesto : Acid Again
Belle & Sebastian : Asleep On A Sunbeam
Pulp : Babies
The Beatles : Back in the U.S.S.R.
Echo & The Bunnymen : The Back of Love
Jane’s Addiction : Been Caught Stealing
Björk : Big Time Sensuality
New Order : Blue Monday
Echo & The Bunnymen : Bring on the Dancing Horses
Public Enemy : Bring The Noise
Ash : Burn Baby Burn
The Cars : Bye Bye Love
Gary Numan : Cars
Beastie Boys : Ch-Check it Out
Blur : Charmless Man
Gorillaz : Clint Eastwood
Echo & The Bunnymen : Crystal Days
Pulp : Do You Remember The First Time?
Public Image Limited : Don’t Ask Me
Simple Minds : Don’t You Forget About Me
Malcolm McLaren : Double dutch
Men At Work : Down Under
Spiritualized : Electricity
Pavement : Folk Jam
The Avalanches : Frontier Psychiatrist
Ladytron : Ghosts
Adam and the Ants? : Goody Two Shoes
Freezepop : Here Comes a Special Boy
Jungle Brothers : I’ll House You
Lou Reed : I’m So Free
OMD : If You Leave
Orbital : Illuminate
Scott Walker : Jackie
David Bowie : The Jean Genie
Depeche Mode : Just Can’t Get Enough
The Arcade Fire : Keep The Car Running
Air : Kelly Watch the Stars
Prefab Sprout : The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Saint Etienne : Kiss and Make Up
Cansei De Ser Sexy : Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above
A Certain Ratio : Life’s a Scream
Blancmange : Living On The Ceiling
ABC : The Look of Love
Elvis Costello And The Attractions : Love For Tender
Jan Hammer : Miami Vice Theme
Meat Beat Manifesto : Mindstream
The Popinjays : Monster Mouth
Primal Scream : Movin’ On Up
Electric Light Orchestra : Mr. Blue Sky
Billy Joel : My Life
The Arcade Fire : Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Lemon Jelly : Nice Weather For Ducks
Elvis Costello And The Attractions : Oliver’s Army
Saga : On The Loose
Madness : One Step Beyond…
Leftfield/Lydon : Open Up (Vocal)
The Future Sound Of London : Papua New Guinea
Andrew WK : Party Hard
Depeche Mode : Personal Jesus
Fluke : Philly
The Monkees : Pleasant Valley Sunday
The Beatles : Please Please Me
The Shamen : Progen (Land Of Oz)
Madonna : Ray Of Light
Spiritualized : Run
The Beatles : She Loves You
The Early Years : So Far Gone
The Divine Comedy : Something For The Weekend
Adam and the Ants? : Stand & Deliver
The Beloved : Sweet Harmony
Soft Cell : Tainted Love
Heaven 17 : Temptation [Original Version]
S’Express : Theme From S’Express
The Sisters Of Mercy : This Corrosion
The Fall : Victoria
The Knife : We Share Our Mothers’ Health
Frankie Goes To Hollywood : Welcome to the Pleasuredome (Original 7 Inch, 1985)
The KLF : What Time Is Love
Elvis Costello And The Attractions : What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding
The Frogs : Whether U Like It Or Not I Love U
Devo : Whip It
Grandmaster & Melle Mel : White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)
Roots Manuva : Witness (1 Hope)
Busta Rhymes : Woo Hah! (Got You All In Check)
Jackie Wilson : Your love is Lifting Me Higher And Higher
Harold Faltermeyer : Axel F
Gorillaz : 19-2000

And so it was that we eventually said to our guests at 3am that we needed to go to bed. They all winked at each other, and slipped out. We fell asleep before we got into bed, I think.

Wedding Music – Dancing

This one was a lot of fun to put together, and quite tricky at the same time. We had to use stuff that people would know, like, and want to dance to. The fact the dancefloor was full almost the entire time shows we got it mostly right.

This playlist wasn’t played in order – it was designed to be set on shuffle. Despite this, and despite us telling the DJ multiple times, and despite his reassurances it was on shuffle, the music followed the order below pretty closely, at least for the first 10 songs or so.

When we were told there was only time for one more track, Cassie told the guy to put on Regret by New Order. A great tune, with a sad kind of growing-up sentiment.

There was one departure from the playlist. One guest, bemoaning the lack of Top 40 stuff being played, requested a Katy Perry song from the DJ. We’d told the DJ “No Top 40”, but we’d also told him to take requests. He asked us if it was OK to play the requested song – we said yes, so he did. The dancefloor instantly emptied, and remained empty until our chosen music was put on again. Don’t mess with perfection, guest.

a-Ha : Take On Me
Adam Ant : Goody Two Shoes
B-52s : Rock Lobster
The Beastie Boys : Girls
The Beastie Boys : Hey Ladies
The Beatles : Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
The Beatles : Can’t Buy Me Love
Big Country : In a Big Country (Radio Edit)
Blur : Song 2
Buddy Holly : Peggy Sue
David Bowie : Let’s Dance
David Bowie : Jean Genie
Depeche Mode : Personal Jesus
Donna Summer : I Feel Love
Duran Duran : Rio
Earth, Wind & Fire : Sing A Song (Album Version)
Elvis Costello & The Attractions : Oliver’s Army
Erasure : A Little Respect
Frankie Goes To Hollywood : Relax
Gary Numan : Cars
Goldfrapp : Strict Machine
Heaven 17 : Temptation [Original Version]
The Human League : Don’t You Want Me
Jackie Wilson : Your love is Lifting Me Higher And Higher
Jane’s Addiction : Been Caught Stealing
The Kinks : Come Dancing
LCD Soundsystem : Drunk Girls
The Libertines : Time for Heroes
Lou Reed : I’m So Free
Marvin Gaye : I Heard It Throught The Grapevine
Men At Work : Down Under
The Mountain Goats : No Children
Paul Simon : Graceland
Paul Simon : Gumboots
Pet Shop Boys : Always On My Mind
Prince : I Would Die 4 U
Prince : Let’s Go Crazy
Pulp : Mis-Shapes
Pulp : Common People (Full Length Version)
Pulp : Babies
The Ronettes : Be My Baby
Sam Cooke : Twistin’ The Night Away
Simple Minds : Don’t You Forget About Me
Soft Cell : Tainted Love
Talking Heads : Once In A Lifetime
Tom Tom Club : Wordy Rappinghood
Wang Chung : Everybody Have Fun Tonight
New Order : Regret

I’m pretty sure there was a lot of other stuff played – the DJ took some more requests from some friends of Cassie’s Mum, who really went for it as the night drew on. I recall an old Tina Turner number at one point. The last track was picked by Cassie. A very nice end to a fantastic evening – but it wasn’t over yet!