Yearly Archives: 2012


With today’s news about Hostess, here’s a post on The Coiled Spring about how it affects the podcast’s ongoing project to review said snack cakes.

Slender Trails

When I get home, Gordon is keen to go out, so I switch my work shoes for my walking-the-dog trainers, then head out into the night, and up on the old railroad trail behind our apartment in the Oakland hills. At this time of year, it’s completely dark, so I have my flashlight.

It’s bad enough that walking along the trail, with just the beam of the flashlight highlighting the trees and swaying branches, is like playing Slender.

What’s worse than that is when a DEER decides to trot across the trail in my flashlight beam, LOOK at me, then trot off into the trees.

What’s even worse is that Gordon saw it and MELTED DOWN.

Adding deer to the Oakland Wildlife I’ve Seen Up Close list. And the Slender Man? Well, bear in mind I only changed my shoes, so I’m wearing a suit and tie when I go up on the trail…


The Tunisian Frank Sinatra

My friend Claire Belhassine, whom I met through Cassie after they met at London Film School, recently released her directorial debut documentary Papa Hédi

…a 21st century portrait of one of Tunisia’s best loved musicians, Hédi Jouini, through the eyes of his British Granddaughter. A contemporary documentary searching for traces of Hédi’s spirit, we uncover via encounters with colleagues, family and cultural commentators his public and private legacy and discover why his music still lives on today.

Claire was in her late 20s when she discovered that her grandfather was the Frank Sinatra of the Arab World. Hédi Jouini’s songs and compositions still resonate twenty years after his death. Reprised as the theme tune for a popular Tunisian soap opera and the holding music for Tunisia’s leading mobile network; covered by pop singers, including international superstar Shakira; and sung by 5 year old street kids as they kick their footballs back and forth – they are part of the TUNISIAN STORY.

After his death, Papa Hedi’s six children stopped talking to each other. Behind the usual story of siblings fighting over their inheritance, lies the powerful dynamic of men’s and women’s roles in 1930’s Tunis and the sad but often funny story of Papa Hédi’s divided family – separated across continents, fighting over royalties, competing to define their father’s legacy.

The film was an official selection of California Arab Film Festival, with screenings in San Jose and Berkeley. Claire contacted Cassie to ask if she would attend the screenings and film various interviews and Q&A sessions. Cassie was filming in LA the weekend of the San Jose screening (with the good camera, sadly) so it fell to me to try and get what they wanted. So I drove down and met up with the festival organizers to get what Claire wanted.

(I had to use GPS because I do not know the way to San Jose.)

Before the screening, there was a performance of some of Hédi Jouini’s songs by a band of Tunisian musicians. They were playing a variety of instruments, some recognisable, some not. I asked the band leader Al Kallel what they were:

  • Nay, a kind of cane flute
  • Qanun, a stringed lap instrument like a zither or autoharp
  • Violin
  • Oud, a stringed instrument related to the similar-looking and -sounding lute.
  • Tar, a kind of drum
  • Riq, a kind of tambourine

They played five or six songs, very much in the Tunisian/Arabic style, with distinctive quavering vocals and completely alien (to me) structures. They weren’t alien to the packed audience at the screening, however. When the band leader listed the songs they would be playing, many people reacted with delight, and at various points they were clapping along with what I assumed to be the chorus. Al sang, and Jouini’s daughter Samia accompanied him, to great effect.

A little more about the audience. They were a mixture of local arts crowd, and Tunisian folks. It was nice to see quite a few people with white American partners. For the most part they were people who were clearly fans of Jouini and his music. The film did not disappoint them. Music in the film was obviously mostly by Hédi Jouini himself, or covers of his most beloved songs by various people, including one of his sons who reinterpreted them in a jazz style. One of my favourite moments was a group of kids on the street all singing one particular song (“Destiny”), which had been used as the theme for a popular TV melodrama. In addition to that, Claire’s husband Francois (aka Franz Kirmann) provided some excellent atmospheric music from his project Piano Interrupted, a collaboration between him and musician and composer Tom Hodge. This took the form of samples of the score, broken down, reversed and otherwise manipulated to create some very effective moments.

The film had various locations. Tunis, obviously. Paris, which has a large Tunisian community. Claire’s travels brought her to San Francisco to interview her aunt Samia, and stayed with Cassie and I in our flat up on the hill in Noe Valley. While there, she took some lovely shots of SF from our roof, and I spotted these straightaway in the film – one looking down at 25th Street and the city beyond, and one looking up the foggy hill toward my beloved Sutro Tower.

The film followed Claire as she went in search of her relatives and the places they were born and raised. One touching moment showed her father visiting the apartment where he lived for most of his childhood. One of the themes was estrangement from family, but there were several amusing moments of siblings bickering while remembering their father. It was a thoughtful, touching and revealing film, which said a lot about the differences in culture between Jouini as a famous man in a male-centric world, as a Muslim married to a Jewish woman, and as a driven poet and artist.

After the film, I quickly packed up and dashed out to get some audience reactions and interviews. Al cornered some people in the lobby, and we shot some clips of them saying what they liked about the film. Reactions were mostly positive (I could tell, even when they were speaking Arabic) – in fact the only negatives were that the film didn’t have enough of Jouini’s music, or didn’t go into enough detail about one thing or another. People wanted more!

At the second screening in Berkeley, the setup was pretty much the same, only this time there was a Q&A session after the film with Claire’s father and Aunt Samia. It was a treat to see them do the sibling bickering live, and it was a treat to be able to see this film, see the folks in it up close and talk to them, hear the audience’s reactions, and be a part of people’s enjoyment of this Tunisian story. Jouini has  a French Wikipedia page, no English one, but you can see the huge list of songs he wrote. It’s no wonder he was so well known and beloved in his home country. This film gave a very personal insight into a legend.

Totally unrelated anecdote. After the first screening and interviews, I hadn’t eaten, so before hitting the road I went to diner chain Johnny Rockets for a burger and ice tea. I was sat in my red vinyl padded booth, enjoying my burger, checking out the non-functional vintage tabletop jukebox, when a group of young folks came in. They looked like they’d been studying or something – they all had big backpacks full of what looked like binders and so on. They were an interesting mix of demographics, but they all had something in common. They all looked kinda nerdy.

They sat in the big corner booth behind me, so I couldn’t see what they were doing. When I finished my meal and stood up to leave, I turned and saw they they each had a big spread of cards in front of them, and they were playing what I guess was Magic: The Gathering. Nice to think they could all just hang out in the diner and play what looks like a complex but social game.

Family, community, arts, entertainment, social cohesion. All that.

Surgery Tomorrow

The date is set, I’m back under the blades tomorrow, 9am. Bit nervous. As well as slicing the nasty out, he’s going to shove a camera down my gullet to check out the inner me. I will of course, demand and post the footage. Perhaps loop it with some Maruosa or Whitehouse.

People at work have been very nice, and in return I have offered to do a “brown bag” presentation entitled “My Day at the Ear Nose & Throat Hospital”. They can enjoy a slideshow of my palette procedure while enjoying their soup, ramen, and mayonnaise-y sandwiches.

After the op, I’ll go home and relax. It will be nice to have the weekend to recover in, plus I’ll take a couple of days next week. It’s good we have the La-Z-Boy now, considering we are both all effed up. Leading up to the op, I’ve not touched a drop of alcohol. It’s been interesting. Friend MCT’s post about addiction and running talks about how drugs and other intoxicants (chemical or otherwise, but then isn’t everything we enjoy chemical?) remove self-censorship and release creativity. I can dig that. I’ve been pretty quiet at parties recently.

Yeah so there you go. The nice people will put me out and slice me up, and I will pay them for it. And I don’t even get to keep the bits. Love to you all.

US/UK Adjectivenoun Revelations

I’ve always been bemused (is that the word?) by the difference in pronunciation between the US and UK of terms like “apple sauce” and “ice cream”. In the UK, they are pronounced with equal emphasis on the first and second words. “Apple Sauce”, “Ice Cream”. In the US, the emphasis is on the first word, “APPLE sauce”, “ICE cream”, implying that the first word defines the type of sauce or cream we are talking about. Which I suppose is true. “PEANUT butter”. In fact you could almost remove the space between the words.

“Applesauce” (I think it’s actually spelled like this here). “Icecream”. “Peanutbutter”.

I’ve just noticed a new one, but it’s slightly different. In the UK it is said that popular things “sell like hot cakes”, implying a load of cakes (of any type)  have just come out of the oven, and every buys one while they’re hot and delicious. That’s how I understand it, anyway. However, in the US it is pronounced and written “sell like hotcakes”, which implies that hotcakes are a specific type of cake. A quick google image search tells me that it is a another word for pancakes – and the American style of pancakes too, not the thin crepe-type UK ones.

Conclusions? I don’t know. I just noticed it, is all.

Videoing The Day-to-day

This article on Retro Thing makes a point about not documenting the mundane in our lives. I think we document more than ever, but not always the regular stuff – just crazy or unusual stuff, or images which don’t document rather than say, “ooh look how that ivy grows on that wall”, or “ooh, look at the mist“. The article goes on to link to this fascinating video by photographer Hans Sipma – a time-lapse tour of Vancouver in the mid-1970’s.

I’ve been playing around with our video camera and the camcorder on my new phone recently. For a lack of better ideas, I videoed some journeys. It was just a case of switching on the camera and seeing what came out of it. First was this bus journey from Regents Street to Camden Town in January 2012.

Wobbly, handheld, and through a scratched and steamy upstairs front window. Plus the route doesn’t have much in the way of sights or landmarks, especially at night. But again, this isn’t about tour videos – it’s about just recording a mundane journey.

This next one was less linear, based on a engineering boat tour around and under the Bay Bridge – both the old and the as yet-unfinished new.

Just the other day, I was playing with my new phone, and decided to capture my daily bus commute over the Bay Bridge (yes, the Bay Bridge is a bit of a feature around here) from the toll plaza to the Transbay terminal. This was taken by holding the phone up against the window, and letting it roll. This meant that it was looking out at 90° from the bus, so you don’t get to see what’s up ahead, only what is directly to the side. You don’t get to see the great views of San Francisco, or the height of the new bridge tower. However, it’s an interesting snapshot – I think the limitation of field of view makes a window through which you just see snippets.

Finally, here’s a video taken from a car driving through the town centre of my birthplace of Bedford, UK. I don’t think I’m in it – frankly I’d rather not know if I was. Some landmarks:

  • Green 172 bus?
  • C&A
  • Eastern Electricity
  • The H Samuel where my parents bought me the watch I have on at this moment.
  • The Woolworths where I worked on and off for many years.
  • Some dodgy moustaches
  • Beales
  • Folks hanging around opposite the library
  • Austin Princess with the boot open – aww yissssss
  • Round past the church to the High Street, then left along the river and into the leafy streets south of Goldington Road.
  • At 11:15, a couple of those Jaws/Hitchcock dolly zoom shots.
Also enjoy the improvised synth workout by the videographers themselves, recorded the same day when they got back from filming!

That last video is pretty powerful stuff actually. There’s a big separation between me and the place of my birth, and between 1985 and now. Luckily technology can allow our senses to reach across time and space and make connections – although I’m glad I can’t smell Bedford’s streets clogged with leaded-petrol cars and diesel buses. Or dodgy 80’s aftershave.

About Time Too

Jamie Palmer, director of the recently-televised documentary We Who Wait: The Adverts & TV Smith, London Film School alumnus and friend of my wife Cassie (who was a camera op on the above film), has finally got himself a blog. I say finally because whenever we see him on visits back to London, it’s always good to hear what opinions he has about what is around at the moment. Cassie says when they went to see movies together, he was able to cite a complete, intelligent, fully-thought-through movie review even as they walked out of the cinema.

If his first post, an excellent review of a recent live debate between David Aaronovitch and Mehdi Hasan at the LSE, is anything to go by, we can expect some thoroughly chewy and enjoyable writing from him.

And of course, these rich and smart posts by Jamie, Middleclasstool and others just go to prove that my witterings about shoes and old club classics is the froth on the pint of the blogosphere, while these guys are the meat. Wait, what?

UPDATE: The full TV Smith documentary is viewable here!

LA Film Shoot, NAS FTP

Cassie is away in Los Angeles this weekend, filming for her new documentary project. She’s the creative one in this case, but I have a big role to play in making sure all the tech stuff is ready. The camera uses big CompactFlash cards, which fill up quickly with HD footage. So that she can reuse the cards while away, I bought a Network Attached Storage device, or NAS, which sits on the network at home. This has 2TB of storage, and I’ve set it up as an FTP server. This means that Cassie can upload footage while she’s away, and then re-use the cards. Then we can make that footage available to her editor, who is conveniently located in London.

It’s all worked out well so far, although if the router or NAS are power-cycled, their IP addresses change, and I have to jump through some hoops to make the FTP work again. I’m told there’s a way to fix them, but no luck yet.

In addition, I used NO-IP’s web service to give a nice domain name to the external IP address of the NAS. This is a freebie, and needs to be renewed every 30 days. I might just give that up and set Cassie’s FTP software to use the IP address directly.

Anyway, while the cat’s away, the mouse has loads to do include edit the new episode of his podcast, and is on call in case the cat has a problem.

Back To The Cheese Slicer

Looks like I have to go back to the place with the gas and knives…

Last December I had an operation to excise a lesion from the roof of my mouth. It had been spotted by my dentist during a regular checkup and cleaning, she had sent me to the surgeon, they’d done a biopsy, and decided to operate. Xmas was pretty mellow as a result. The tissue removed had shown “mild to moderate dysplasia”, which is just cells misbehaving. It’s on the far end of the “cells misbehaving” spectrum, so nothing to worry about really (apart from them taking a cheese slicer to the roof of my mouth).

I went back for checkups after four months, and after eight months. At the second visit the doc said it looked a bit red, so we waited a month and checked again. It was back. Despite the previous operation being a success, with the tissue removed containing all the problem bits, it looks like the tissue in my palate just won’t behave.

The doc I went to before is a maxillofacial surgeon – he mainly does wisdom teeth and the like. He’s also out of my insurance network, and if that wasn’t enough he’s across town in the Richmond area of San Francisco. Last time it took me 45 minutes to get a cab from outside the hotel opposite my office. Seriously.

So, he referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat guy in the fantastic neo-Mayan 450 Sutter, which is just a bit of a walk from my office. This guy is also in my network, which is good, because if this thing came back once, there’s a possibility it will just keep on coming. I might have to keep doing this.

I went along there today, and came away with a checklist of things to do before my surgery. The surgery isn’t scheduled yet, but they will call me in the next couple of days, and it won’t be very long before I’m back on the bye-bye juice.

What’s causing this? They can’t say. The ENT and my PCP don’t think it’s the asthma medication I suck down morning and night. Smoking isn’t an issue. But one thing he did say was that alcohol has been known to cause tissue damage in the mouth. I really don’t drink much – sometimes weeks will go by without me touching a drop. When I do let go, I usually manage about 5 beers before falling asleep. I’m not slamming hard liquor every day. Despite this light usage of the bottle, the doctor said I should quit all alcohol, including mouthwash, moonshine and mead, for now – at least until after the surgery.

I’ll keep you posted when the surgery date is decided. Maybe I’ll get Cassie to bring the Zoom so I can record my post-op anaesthetized pronouncements about the … woah … size of my hands.