Monthly Archives: January 2012

Green Carded

I got my Green Card! Or at least, I have a piece of paper that says I have been granted my request for change in Permanent Resident Status, and that I should receive my card in the next couple of weeks.

Cassie and I went to the USCIS building on Washington and Sansome, where we met my attorney (actually a local attorney recommended by my actual attorney in New York). I’d gathered together the considerable amount of paperwork required, including photos of Cassie and I with each others families, shared bills, the wedding certificate, joint bank statements, tax returns and so on. After a short time in the waiting room trying to figure out what all the posters in Spanish said, we were called in to an officer’s room. He sat behind his desk and started to gather a load of forms together. As he went through my forms, he asked me to confirm various bits of information – my date of birth, Cassie’s date of birth, membership of the various groups (including the Carlton Dramatic Society – I was pretty thorough). He asked Cassie to tell the story of how we met, and how we got together, all the while making notes on our forms and stamping things. Finally he told us that I had been approved! We were in there for about twenty minutes, and it seemed pretty easy, all told.

One little problem raised its head. Once you start the Green Card process, you can’t leave the US and come back in until you receive your Employment Authorization and Travel Authority (or “parole”) card. So when I received it, we immediately booked a trip to London and Berlin (details later). At the interview, the officer took my Emplyment Authorization and Travel Authority card away, because the Green Card will replace it. My attorney told him about our travel plans, and he said I could come in and get a stamp in my passport which did the same thing as the card. I had to make an appointment for that, and by the time I did that, the earliest available appointment was on the morning that we fly to London! Close shave.

The Green Card I’m getting is actually only a temporary one, because Cassie and I have been married less than a year. After two years I have to apply for the full Green Card, but that is a matter of just submitting a form. Oh, and staying married. We’ll see how that goes…

All Songs Considered Mostly Harmless

I have been informed by my favorite American that I live with and married that my statements in the post “All Songs Considered Harmful” are anti-American, anti-freedom, and that I don’t even know.

I would therefore like to apologize to any and all people that make have taken offense at the opinions expressed in the aforementioned post. I admit that I like my music plinky-plonky like a nursery rhyme and that any element of talent, expression or “soul” expressed in music confuses, confounds and terrifies me.

Fresh Meat Casting

Back when I was involved in amateur/independent theater in London, some friends and I found some of the things actors put their CVs pretty funny. So, we created our own casting agency, Fresh Meat, and threw together some fake CVs. The names have been changed, but they were based on ourselves – see if you can guess who is who?

A bit of an in-joke, and an old one at that, but I found this stuff when I was clearing out out drafts and crap, so I thought I’d post it for fun & completeness. Enjoy Fresh Meat Casting.

All Songs Considered Harmful

I listen to NPR, the godless liberal immigrant that I am. Many of the programs are available as podcasts, and this is how I hear most of it – I don’t listen at work, and I like to time-shift my media, like many citizens of the future. Cassie suggested I might like the program All Songs Considered, especially when they do an “electronic round-up” every once in a while.

I’m afraid I can’t listen to it, it annoys me too much. The whole thing seems to be Rockist, or Post-Rockist – by which I mean not your classic rockist, but also not rockism as applied to post-rock. I slightly less virulent rockism, perhaps.

The first time I heard one of these electronic round-ups, one of the guys was enthusing over the latest release, to the bemusement of the other two. He would put on a track by some established artist, with a running time of 8 minutes or whatever, and would have to take it off after 2 minutes, saying, “It gets going later on”. It was kind of awkward, like the other two were indulging him in this silliness. It sounded like they wanted to get back to the “normal” stuff.

It makes me think of the way skeptical discussions of religion in the US seem mostly to be driven by a reaction to religion, using it as a starting point. Many atheists have their story of how they were raised in a religious household, then broke free, or woke up, or drifted away. They always have that at the core of how they think of their life with respect to – or no respect to – religion. In the same way, the reactions to the electronic music on ASC seem to come from the idea that guitar’n’drums is the basis for it all, and everything else is, “OK, let’s try and figure out what they’re doing differently here” rather than an honest discussion of the music and what reaction they feel from it. The very fact they do an “electronic round-up” is a giveaway, now I think about it. It has a sense of obligation rather than acceptance to it.

I guess music crit in the US is still under the influence of different charts for R&B and rock. Under it all, I can’t help but feel there’s a yearning to say, “Alright, we’ve covered the weird stuff the kids are listening to. Now it’s back to some blues-rock from Illinois.”

The format itself annoys me sometimes – people talking to each other (I know, right? People. They’re the worst.). It depends so much on whether you like the voices and conversation or not. It adds an extra layer of presentation style to the content. For example, compare it to a web page of text. You need a certain amount of formatting to make it readable, and perhaps some more to make it attractive and enjoyable to read, but too much presentation over content and people are switched off. I think the same thing applies to radio and podcasts. You might enjoy the content – the words being spoken and the information being provided – but the presentation puts you off. I used to listen to the How Stuff Works podcast, but unsubscribed because the format was a main presenter talking to someone about the technology they had chosen to explain that week. It turned into a chatty conversation between personalities rather than a clear explanation of the tech – the people were the content instead of the information.

So Matt, what have you got here?

I’ve got a metal detector.

Wow, so how does that work? Looks complex.

Well, Greg, this bit is the coil…

The Coil? Sounds challenging. Why don’t you go ahead and explain what the coil is?

…and so on. It was like pulling teeth. I would have preferred someone reading out a clear step-by-step explanation of the tech without this “humanizing” back and forth – because I may not be a fan of the humans in question.

This sounds like a right old moanfest. I will add my usual caveat – these are opinions, YMMV etc. I do enjoy a lot of podcasts, I’m just feeling pernickety about these ones. I should point out as well that the written music reviews on the All Songs Considered are fine – they get to the point, and do a good job of  describing the music and its effects.

I’ll do a plug here to my friends at Both Bars On. James and Bon review music, but with a openness of mind and a breadth of taste that I can only aspire to.

I would repeat here that despite my opinion of podcasts which are just people talking, I reckon I would be awesome as one half of a podcast team. So, if anyone wants to do that, and they have the time, talent, equipment and will to get it going so I can step in and share the glory, get in touch!

A Long Time Ago In A Field In Hampshire, Alright

Balkan Vinyl, the limited-edition retro-dance label responsible for Acid Relief, has released a new limited edition 7″ hardcore single – Rave Wars II – The Hardcore Strikes Back. This nifty slice of nasty comes with some cool artwork, and a free vintage Star Wars action figure. Or at least, it did. In the time it took me to write about it, it sold out. You can still buy the digital download though.

Here’s the player with the tracks to stream:

Acid Relief was great – a benefit album for African Famine relief. I bought it and love it. Great for harsh Excel-wrangling. Here, have a listen:

It’s worth pointing out some transatlantic terminology differences. Hardcore in the sense of this single means a break-driven style of electronic dance music popularized in the early 1990’s in the UK. Hardcore in the US means a aggressive, politicized form of punk rock, popularized in the 1980’s.

I nearly wrote another post with a longer list of these differences, but I could only think of one more – New Wave. I think of New Wave as the smarter, sharper form of post-punk, but here in the US I’m told that a-Ha, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Human League were New Wave, so there’s clearly a disconnect there somewhere. Simon Reynolds, we need you!

Skunk Update

After a couple of washes with the peroxide/soda mixture, Gordon seems to be pretty much clear of skunky odor. If you stick your face in his belly and sniff, you can still make out a hint of burnt rubber. The house is now OK, based on the testimony of beloved friends Alex & Jason.

When I went down to the coffee shop on Sunday morning, there was a big line. Montclair is a morning village! I stood in line, and all the while coffee smells were impregnating my hoodie – the same one I walk Gordon in. When I got home, Cassie said she could smell skunk, and made me put my clothes through the wash again. This skunk stuff makes you paranoid about smells.

I took Gordon up to the trail this morning, keeping him on the leash, and as we walked along the path, with me flashing my torch around, what did we see but a skunk – probably the skunk – trotting along by the path. Gordon saw it, but he didn’t bark or pull on the leash – he just growled a bit, snorted, and pawed the ground. He may have learned his lesson, but I’m not letting him off the leash to find out.

Meanwhile, the skunk just trots along the path, being all crepuscular. Skunk don’t care; Skunk don’t give a shit.

Happy New SKUNK

Recently I’ve been enjoying the local wildlife here in Oakland. When the sun is on it in the afternoon, the deck is warm enough to sit out on and enjoy, even at this time of year. There’s some big trees in the yard below ours on the hill, and squirrels, woodpeckers and other beasties do their thing at eye level. Hummingbirds come and go as well – I love them, and our neighbours have a feeder which you often see being used (you fill it with a nectar-like liquid, and the birds drink from little plastic flowers). On the larger side, the road up to our place has warning signs about deer, and there are coyotes up in the hills as well. Sadly you sometimes see dead deer and raccoons by the road, but the coyotes soon make them go away.

Unfortunately, this also means that more unwelcome critters are around as well, as we found out yesterday. When the alarm went off, I jumped up with a spark in my eye and spring in my step as usual, pulled on my sweatpants, grabbed the torch and took Gordon for his morning constitutional. We got up onto the trail that runs behind our house, and I (stupidly) let Gordon off his leash so he could go and do his business. In the semi-darkness, he sniffed around, then suddenly he growled and set off after something. Before I could react, there was a scuffle, and I saw a shape – a black and white striped shape.

Gordon suddenly stood still, shaking his head and snorting. Oh, shit.

That morning, the first day back after the new year, before going to work, I soaped and rinsed Gordon five times. Before that, I ran down to the supermarket and bought bottles of contact lens saline, which got squirted in his eyes out on the deck – we weren’t letting him inside quite yet. The neighbour texted to say “I hope that skunk didn’t get Gordon” – she could smell it. The guy in the supermarket smelt it too.

Once I’d rinsed his eyes out, I grabbed him at arms length (as far as possible – he’s now 26lbs) and put him in the tub. Five soapings and rinsings later, we thought it was mostly gone. We limited the rooms he could get in, put sheets over the other stuff, and dashed off to work – I was able to catch the last bus across the bridge, and Cassie only arrived at work two hours before her colleagues, instead of the usual three.

Our excellent and highly recommended dog walker Drake (of Real Dog Adventures) arrived to take G out later that morning, and told us the house still really smelled, and G was smelly too. We must have got used to the smell. The other dogs on the walk all wanted to get in his face and sniff him, something which he is not into at all.

I took the bus to work as usual. When I arrived, I hung my overcoat by the door, and told the receptionist what had happened, and to let me know if she detected anything. Ten minutes later, she said my coat had a distinct whiff. I had to pack my coat into a trash bag for the day, and the journey home in the evening.

Cassie and I both did some research at work, and we found the following recipe:

  • 1 Quart 3% Hydrogen Peroxide solution
  • ¼ Cup Baking Soda
  • 1 Teaspoon Dawn dish soap

We mixed the stuff up, used it as a shampoo on Gordon (which he didn’t like – another bath?!), and then washed it off. Then I washed him with regular dog shampoo, left the suds on for five minutes, then rinsed. That seemed to help a lot, but there were a couple of spots I missed, which I will attack tonight. Because it was late, and Gordon was still damp, I blowdried him, which again he’s not keen on, although I think he kind of liked getting his undercarriage aired out. I’ll repeat the special wash tonight.

When I lived in San Diego, the area I lived in wasn’t that great, and you would often smell skunk. The thing was, you didn’t know if it was an actual skunk, or someone smoking skunk, which is strong weed named because of the similarity in smell. I would have to close all my windows during the day to prevent the smell (and the neighbours) from getting in. The problem with that was that when I returned in the evening, the air conditioning controller would say it was 95°F in there. It would take the whole evening to cool down. Oakland is a lot better than that, even with the stinky wildlife.