Monthly Archives: November 2011

Mouth Op

I went to my dentist for a regular checkup and cleaning recently, and she noticed a red patch on the roof of my mouth. She said it was probably irritation from hot food, or perhaps my asthma medication (which is a steroid powder inhaler). So she sent me to the oral surgeon who did Cassie’s wisdom teeth recently (very good guy – Cassie barely noticed), and he took a look and decided to do a biopsy.

I got the result back on Monday when I returned to the surgeon, and he told me there was thickening of the tissue, with mild to moderate dysplasia. This means the cells are starting to play up, and could go wrong in the future. Therefore what he wants to do is remove the top layer of tissue from the roof of my mouth, from just in front of the uvula to about halfway along the front palate. He took impressions with that minty gel solidifying stuff (like when Brian made my London After Midnight teeth) so he can make a plate which will cover up the area while it heals. He’s confident the procedure will be curative, and told me not to worry. No mention of the cause – I’m going to talk to my doctor, just to let them know in case they need to change anything.

The op is set for December 21st. It’ll be a general anesthetic – I’ll probably be suspended upside down for the surgeon’s convenience. If he hangs me by my ankles, it could sort my back out too. A colleague suggested I could get a mani-pedi while out as well – get it all done while under – nice. 

We just had Thanksgiving, so I’m done eating for the year. Cassie and I have a big cocktail party at our place on Sat 17th – I want to have fun there. I’m not bothered too much about Xmas eating and partying – I’d rather get this done now and just relax over the holiday.

Small Printer Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about printers. Over the years, I’ve had various printers. I had an old obsolete laser printer from work, which had trouble printing graphics, I’ve had inherited Lexmark pieces of shit, I’ve had Epson boxes which jammed and got clogged with dust.

I currently have an HP Photosmart 8050, which is pretty cool, all told. I recently retrieved it from the cupboard where it has lived for over a year, and after replacing the dried-up cartridges, it works fine. But there’s the problem. It gets used so rarely that when it is required, the ink is dried up. Add to that the fact that it usually gets used in an urgent important-form-printing situation, and it all gets a bit annoying. It’s not the fault of HP – in fact this printer seems to cope with storage better than others I’ve owned. This may be due partly to its compact size, flaps and doors which transform it into a nice box shape. But if you only use a printer rarely, why keep one about?

Before I got around to unpacking the HP, Cassie and I had a scheme for printing letters and official documents, when she didn’t work in an office. We both had the online file-sharing tool Dropbox installed, and we shared a folder called “Things for Matt to Print”. Then whenever we need to print something, we dropped a PDF (or whatever) in there, and I printed it the next day at the office, where I also have Dropbox installed. Or Cassie dropped something there during the day, and I got a little message that pops up. This worked fine for the most part.

But what would a home printer be used for?

Letters

These are usually to organizations, rather than friends or family. For these, we use the Dropbox scheme described above. That said, now that this printer is back up and running, I’ll be dashing off a load of overdue change-of-address letters. We keep in touch with friends and family via phone, Skype, email and social network, and hand-written letters or cards when necessary. A home printer is not really necessary for letters.

Photos

We rarely print photos, and when we do we send them to an online photo-printing site, so a fancy photo-printer is unnecessary. This is especially true when you consider the cost of home photo printing ink and paper. The HP did come with a separate photo ink cartridge and a sample of special photo paper, so I think I’ll print a few shots, but I doubt I would replace them when they run out.

Directions, Recipes and other small documents

Things like this really don’t need a letter-sized page to be printed. A recipe could be printed on an index card. When planning a route when going out, I scribble the directions on a Post-it, rather than print a whole sheet. A small sheet printer would work here as well. The HP has a special photo/envelope/card rack thing to let you print on these smaller pages – I haven’t really tried it. Directions can often be texted to a cellphone, so it’s probably worth investigating that. Smartphones have directions built-in, of course.

I guess the point is that it would be nice to have one tool that did everything when you needed it, but wasn’t in the way when you didn’t. It’s like cars – why keep a big truck when you don’t use it regularly? But if you do, do you keep the truck, and get rid of the smaller runabout?

I think a printer which could print letters, recipe cards, and receipt-like scraps of quick information would be the ideal. Like a little receipt printer. Perhaps one that uses dry solid ink, or thermal paper like the old fax machines and the Sinclair ZX Printer (on second thoughts…). In the meantime, I have the HP, and I’ll use it more now it’s out, and make the best use of the ink I have that I can. But when it runs out, it may be time to leave home printers behind.

Of course now I read that BERG have announced the BERG Little Printer, which is a little thermal device that prints content that you have subscribed to via the BERG Cloud service. It’s more of an ecosystem, with content specially generated and piped through via  a special hub, but the printer itself looks a lot like what I had in mind.

Esquire Don’t List

I have a subscription to Esquire magazine, for something to read in the toilet. I have a little game I like to play. In every issue, there is a list of things “men should not do”. At the moment, it’s things like carol singing and making snow angels.

I like to take that list, every month, and do everything on it, while flipping the bird in the general direction of the Hearst Communications HQ. Because no magazine that costs me $10 for an entire year gets to tell me what to do.

Especially when said glossy magazine is made up of 50% adverts and publishes smug Scott Raab interviews.

Taking On The Mantle

The weather here in the Bay Area is not the idyllic Californian sun that many people think it is – in fact it can be downright c-c-cold. There was frost in the hills today, for example. OK, so not ice storms and driving winds, but cold enough to warrant a proper overcoat. So once again I was on the hunt for piece of clothing that no-one seems to sell, my exacting tastes (or “fussiness”) causing me grief yet again.

I have an old raincoat from the UK, which is looking a little tatty these days, and it also doesn’t have a hood. This was very important – I hate using umbrellas. I hate using them, carrying them, remembering them, and struggling with them in the slightest breeze. In addition, I hate the way some people carry golf umbrellas while walking on the sidewalks. They’re not designed for that – they’re too big. They poke people in the eye, and they’re the equivalent of the SUV on the road: a big bullying “I’m dry so screw you” antisocial thug.

So anyway, I needed a coat with a hood. There’s plenty of those around, but I wanted something I could wear over a suit. I could get any number of waterproof hooded jackets from the sports store, but they wouldn’t go over a suit. They’d either be too short, so the suit coat would protrude – very bad – or they’d be inappropriate colors, or have a big logo on them. I can’t understand why men’s raincoats don’t have hoods. I’d love a good Burberry raincoat with a functional hood, but it just seems not to be the way they’re designed. Tradition? Women have it easy – several of my female colleagues have overcoats that I would love a male version of.

I searched around for a possible candidate, but for a long time I had no luck. I was hoping for something with a collar and hood arrangement a little like this:

The Man Who Fell To Earth checks out a light.

The Man Who Fell To Earth checks out a light.

…but that’s more like a duffle coat, with toggles on the front, and made of wool so it wouldn’t be waterproof. Not exactly what I was after.

It looked more and more like I was after a parka of some kind. I have no problem with that at all, after all, another source picture was this:

"Is it me for a moment?"

I like the combination of the suit with the parka. I don’t ride a scooter any more, but I do like that look a lot. Better than Sting in the same movie.

Finally I looked at the Eddie Bauer website, and found the Port Townsend Commuter Trench, which seemed to fit the bill. EB is a bit “elderly”, and certainly very outdoorsy, with fleeces and down jackets. But this particular model checked most of the boxes – at least enough of them. After looking around some more, and not seeing a better choice, I ordered one (they’re not available in the stores). I chose black, because I tend to choose black for most accessories like this. It was also available in grey, but the problem with artificial fabrics in grey is that they just look grey – there’s no heathering or texture to it.

It arrived a few weeks ago and I’m very happy with it. It’s a little on the chunky side, with its zip-out warm lining, but it’s really been good these past few days waiting for the bus. I tried taking the lining out, but then it was just a very thin layer, which didn’t keep me warm and didn’t do much to stop the wind.

The hood works fine. It packs away into the collar, but I tend to leave it out. The collar is a little on the stiff side because of the zip, but I don’t mind that. The combination of that, the artificial fabric, and the dystopian urban dreamscape in which I live, makes me think I look like this:

Mantles and Lids: The Originals by Dave Gibbons

A man can dream can’t he?

Driving Mr Petty

Brian Petty rallying

My Dad loved motor sports, both the sport and the magazine that shared its name – there would always be the latest issue lying around when I visited, with its distinctive green cover.

Sunday was Grand Prix day, and he and my brother would always watch. I wasn’t into it so much, but I seem to have absorbed a certain amount of knowledge. I used to instinctively recognize old cars on the street (“ooh, Bugatti”) but I have less chance since moving to the US.

Dad used to drive in rallies using the family car, as part of the Civil Service Motoring Association (CSMA). He was a member of that because of his long service with the Post Office, and then with British Telecom (43 years!). At the top is a photo of him barely keeping hold of the steering wheel of the Hillman Hunter while rallying in 1972.

Brother Simon recently found these old photos of Dad driving his(?) Ford Cortina GT Mk1 around Snetterton circuit in Norfolk. I don’t know when they were taken. Some other classics in there – a Sprite? MG roadsters?

Dad's Cortina GT Snetterton 2

Dad's Cortina GT Snetterton 1

Bye Mollie

I’m very sad to hear that my brother’s family dog, Mollie, has died. She was just under 8 years old, and had been ill with a tumour for a while. It got worse, and they made the tough decision to end her suffering.

Shuggie and Molly playing

Shuggie and Molly in 2005

Mollie was a Westie, and a very cute one. She had a bit of an underbite, and used to love to run down the garden barking, in the hope of catching a bird. She never caught one, obviously.

Mollie went by various names in her home, in keeping with my family’s bizarre sense of humour. Some favourites:

  • Molla / Molla-molla
  • Moola
  • Molenzo
  • Mollusc

The photo, taken in June 2005, is of Mollie and my ex-dog Shuggie, who I got with Mairi earlier that year. You can see he’s much smaller than Mollie here. (the toe belongs to my niece and goddaughter Lauren – sorry for your loss, Lol).

When Mairi and I were deciding to get a pet, we knew I was allergic to either cats or dogs. When my brother got Mollie, the next time we visited I played with her and basically rubbed my face on her. No reaction!

Mollie and Shuggie saw each other a few times, and would always play tug-of-war and chase each other around the house and garden. She’ll be missed.

I will give Gordon lots of attention this evening.

 

Eleventy

Busy weekend! Because Friday was 11/11/11 (no ambiguity with getting the month and day mixed up, which I’m still getting used to) we went to a party thrown by Friend Taylor at a boat club we’ve been to a few times. This club is a great little place – with all the fancy yacht and boat clubs along the shore of the bay, this one is more like the caddyshack. A little less fancy, but lots more fun, with the wooden shed housing a very cheap bar and lots of nautical flags on the walls, and an extended outside terrace that gives the impression that it’s been added to over the years, with mismatching furniture and plastic sheeting extending the space and reclaiming it from the elements. The view from the terrace is one of loading facilities rather than open bay, but it’s nice to smell the ocean and check out the disused railway loading ramp and other bits and pieces.

Taylor tells me that the gentrification of the surrounding area may threaten this place soon. The area was a run down industrial dockland, but recently new office buildings and fancy apartment blocks have sprung up, and it looks like they might not appreciate having this rathe more “organic” place in their midst. We’ll see.

People were dressed up in various 11-themed costumes, which got a bit tenuous in places:

  • 11 Monkeys (one monkey short)
  • Jerry McNerney, Representative for California’s 11th Congressional District (this one was assigned to me because I didn’t have a costume, but I was wearing a tie, having come straight from work)
  • A couple with candles shaped like 5 and 6 on their heads – together they made 11
  • you get the picture

After a New Year-style countdown, at the stroke of 11/11/11 11:11:11 there was a champagne toast and the party continued into the early hours.

Saturday we rose late, relaxed, did some housework, and generally dithered about, and then in the evening we met our friends Stacey and Duard for some Chinese food at the surprising Kirin in Albany. Stacey’s father recently passed away, and so they are visiting all his favourite restaurants in memory of him. Nice idea.

After a good meal, we went over to Club Mallard, a beautiful bar in Albany. It’s done up to look like a hunting lodge, with a big fireplace (very welcome), log walls, cosy booths and hunting prints on the walls. There’s also a Tiki room and patio, and I love that stuff – in fact, this place is a sister bar to the Kona Club, which is out-and-out Tiki.

Of course, I’m aware that kind of fake atmospherics in a bar is like a British pub having horse brasses and gardening implements on the wall. You can buy that kind of thing from a catalogue when you open a pub. But, I guess the fact it’s alien to me here gives it a frisson. Nothing better than a good frisson. It’s like the decor in our old apt in San Francisco – Cassie didn’t like parts of it because it reminded her of  the places she grew up in in the late 70’s in San Marino. I liked it because it looked like a late 70’s Californian apt.

Saturday night we met up with Taylor again, because it was his and our friend Aaron’s birthday, and they had a booth reserved at the DNA Lounge nightclub for its famous Booty mashup night. Because those guys know all the scene people, we were on the guest list too, so it was a matter of breezing in and enjoying ourselves without lining up in the cold or forking out. Nice.

Booty is great fun, with the DJs playing these mashups of older songs we knew combined with current stuff we don’t. Showing our age there, I think. The highlight was performances by the house band Smash Up Derby, who do the mash up stuff too, but live and very entertaining. Most of the group went on a speakeasy after the club – I didn’t know those things still existed. Not for us though.

Sunday we had various plans. Cassie met up with an old friend, who now runs a small artisan brewery, at one of our favourite brunch places, Absinthe in Hayes Valley. I met our friends Matt and Mikka at a crepe place round the corner. It was good to catch up with each of them and hear about the real estate trade in the Bay Area, and the local short film and theatre scene.

After food, we all met up and checked out the nice little boutiques on Hayes, such as the specialist sake shop, multiple children’s clothing places, reclaimed furniture and local artist’s work.

Busy – and worth it!

Super Sad Book Review

Disclaimer: I’m not an author, or a critic (although isn’t everyone?)

Gary Shteyngart’s ‘Super Sad True Love Story’ – NYTimes.com.

I read this one a while back, and I’m currently listening to more podcasts and audiobooks than I am reading physical books – when I get into bed and pick up my book, my brain says, “OK, sleepy time!” and switches off. Finding time to sit and read is tricky.

Read the NYtimes article linked to above for a background to the book. Here are my comments.

I felt a bit stuck in the middle. Despite being 39, approximately the age of male protagonist, I felt like he was much older. Perhaps I don’t fit the uber-literate NYC Old-World-Intellectual type. I do own a corduroy jacket, and when the elbows give out, I will be getting elbow patches, so there’s that. Funnily enough, the jacket is from Uniqlo. Funny, because…

His female counterpart is a young Korean-American, with the classical shame-driven and achievement/marriage obsessed parents (“why you no call? why you no study?”). Her obsession is consumerism, and the shopping channels she constantly browses on her cellphone. In fact, everyone her age has an obsession with the consumer culture created around them (by the previous generation, who now look on in horror as they are superceded).

A couple of word devices the author uses really irritated me. The first is the invention of the word “äppärät”, referring to the ubiquitous smartphones that everyone carries (at least anyone “in the know”). It’s a clumsy term, and a very unlikely one. In my experience, people don’t come up with something like that when describing something everyone has or does. People usually tend to abbreviate, saying, “Call me on my cell“, “Text me”, “I’ve got this great picture I took with my phone“. In the UK people say “my mobile”. In Germany they say “mein Handy”. I’ve read science fiction where everyone carries a “pad” or a “terminal”. There’s no need to be so florid (or unpronounceable), and it has the air of either desperation or a kind of me-too appropriation of established SF tropes. “Real” literature often does this, I find. They dip into the SF/Fantasy idea pool, pluck something juicy out, and get plaudits for being so inventive. This paragraph is a bit accusatory, and I don’t mean it to be – I’ve just noticed this. A “literary” author writes a genre book – SF or fantasy for example. Genre fans think it’s a weak example of the genre, but literary fans think it’s too out there. Does this happen a lot?

The other irritating wordplay is the InterCapping or CamelCase of all the corporation names, and how they’re amusing and unlikely, such as LandO’LakesGMFordCredit, ConAgraWholeFoodsLockheedMartin, WeylandYutani or whatever. That said, it’s not as bad as the cyberpunk overdrive of Jon Courtenay Grimwood, where everyone is on speed and smells of blood, nanobots and gunpowder, and carries a SmiWess sentient revolver (I made that up).

With the Occupy Wall Street protests going on now, it’s interesting to think of the parallels with this book. Some characters in the book are involved in helping encampments of people in Central Park, made homeless by the US dollar falling to the yuan. These are broken up using “semi-lethal” force, and it’s hard to watch the same thing happening now in the city where I live.

Good book, but I think I fall through a couple of gaps – the age/generation gap, and the genre/literary gap.

The Talented Mr Albini

The Shellac show at the New Parish in Oakland a couple of weeks ago was a fascinating combination of “purity” and “richness”. I’ve not really heard much stuff by Steve Albini – I’m obviously aware of his status in the music world, but it’s not really the kind of thing I’m into, so it’s passed me by. But I’m now definitely a fan of his style.

I’ve been to the New Parish before – it’s a pretty good music venue in downtown Oakland, with a small stage, mezzanine with seats, and a good outdoor area to cool off or smoke if you need to. It’s a pretty standard place, all told, down to the red and black color scheme of their website (so beloved of independent venues).

Cassie and I went for dinner at the restaurant next door first, which gave show-goers a free drink when you produced a ticket. We thought it meant you could get a beer, but it meant a specific drink – in this case it was some kind of boozy fruit punch, which was fine. It’s a Carribean-Creole place anyway, so exotic was in. While I paid the bill, C got in the line, and I was just signing when she called me out because the line was moving. I jumped up, knocked two half-full water glasses down my trousers, said “shit” very firmly, and dashed out.

So it was that I saw Shellac with damp legs.

 First up was Helen Money – Friend James had recommended we get there in time to see her play her electrical cello. I enjoyed the set. She uses the tools of the lead guitarist – effects pedals, loopers and the like – to make a variety of interesting sounds. Starting with a looped bass note, she would layer distorted pluckings or scrapings, and then kick in with a boosted melody. Some of the (songs? pieces? ugh not pieces) were more melodic, others were more atmospheric, some were pure noise. All good.

She left the stage, and there was a break while Shellac set up – and it was a surprise to see just that: Albini, Weston and Trainer on stage, plugging in and setting up. The crowd were too cool to react – other gigs go wild when the band take the stage. Instead we saw Albini and Weston setting up their disticntive metal-topped amps and cut-out Travis Bean aluminium guitar and bass. Trainer’s drum kit was front and center, with symmetrical cymbals either side.

Mid-set, Weston took questions while Albini tuned up. This was a fun section, and I’m glad the location of Uffizi was inquired after – Uffizi is of course Todd Trainer’s beloved Italian Greyhound, and the cover star of Shellac’s last album Excellent Italian Greyhound.

As for the music, of course the only song I really know is Prayer To God, which was a real singalongacrowdpleaser. I guess they just enjoyed yelling “fuckin’ kill him already” repeatedly. Dog and Pony Show was a highlight, as was an extended and rarified version of The End Of Radio. I’ve found myself humming Crow, or at least muttering the lyrics to myself.

There was a moshpit! Cute, I’ve not seen one of those for a long time. One guy with long glossy golden locks seemed very intent on getting in there and waving his tresses hither and thither. The mohawk dude was right up front. I’m pretty certain Milton Waddams was in there somewhere. Weird mishmash.

What’s this about purity and richness? I guess I mean the “purity” of just three guys, the “minimalist rock trio”, simple instruments, raw sound, lyrics stated more than sung, and how they managed to provide a loud, complex, rolling, juddering, warped (in some cases by bending the guitar itself, I think) and complete sound.

After the show we got another example of the non-showbiz of Shellac – Albini and Weston sat on the front of the stage and sold tshirts and chatted with gig-goers. I bought a black-on-black shirt, told Albini my wife loved him, he said she had good taste, we shook hands. Nice chap.

Here’s some other Albini stuff: a rather dark diary of the final tour by Big Black, where he lays into all sorts of industry people, other bands (including “Mitzi Ebb“) and describes his wading through the seedy underbellies of various cities, including a gig in a bar in Manchester that I used to go to… On a much different note, Albini has a food blog, in which he describes the dishes he makes for his wife. Real change of pace. And just to round it out, here’s a link to a poker forum in which he suddenly announces who he is and takes questions on the music biz, recording, contracts, ripoffs and so on.

Good gig, good venue. We’ve got Wilco in January, bit that’ll be very musical. We’ll see.

Pal James at Bright Club

I’m very sad I can’t make it to this event:

Bright Club "Stars" flier

Where comedy and brains collide!

My friend James, the “Sci-Fi Geographer” is speaking, and is accompanied by various scientists, comedians and musicians. It looks like it would be a fantastic night, rounded off with drinks nearby.

Man, I wish I was going. They should do a tour. West Coast US 2011-2013. I have a guest room and a big sofa.