Monthly Archives: June 2012

25 Albums – Talking Heads – Remain In Light

There were planes on the back of it

Talking Heads are/were one of my favourite bands. At one time they were my favourite, hands down. I could have gone with the first album of theirs I got into, Little Creatures, or the first one I bought, True Stories, but I’m going to go all muso-journo on you and talk about Remain In Light, their third Eno collaboration, released in 1980.

When Road To Nowhere came out in 1985, I was at school, and it was a big radio hit. Friend Paul and I got into Talking Heads that way. Actually, he got all the records, and I would tape them, until I stifled the inner Scrooge long enough to go to Andy’s Records on Harpur Street and buy Fear Of Music, along with Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces and The Tom Tom Club’s Close To The Bone, on vinyl.

Around this time, the BBC broadcast a very long documentary about music videos. I didn’t record it at the time, but when it was broadcast again on BBC2 while the 1987 General Election results came in, I taped it and watched it repeatedly. Every few minutes, a graphical banner appeared in red or blue (or even yellow) saying “Bloody Tories Retain North Beds – More Skeet For You, Suckers!”. The program was a history of music videos, from early jazz/animation experimentation, to Top Of The Pops fillers, to MTV. Various bands were highlighted for having innovative videos, and Talking Heads was included, along with Madness. I remember a good segment about Cucumber Studios, who did a lot of cool stuff in the 80’s – very 80’s, IIRC.

What caught my eye was the crazy video for Once In A Lifetime, featuring David Byrne jerking and twitching while he emulated the preachers and witchdoctors sampled in the video. This gave rise to many amusing reenactments in the quad at Pilgrim Upper between classes. It also led to listening to the whole album, and realizing what a marvelous piece of work it is.

(Sidebar fact! My original taped copy had the two sides taped in the wrong order, so for a long time I thought Once In A Lifetime was the opening track.)

Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)

…I’m a government man.

Straight into the weird. Jakka jakka guitars, off-time drum boinks, and an electronic burbling freakout halfway through. A plea for understanding from a civil servant? He’ll be telling us his building has every convenience next. Actually, it’s apparently based on testimony from someone embroiled in the Watergate scandal.

Crosseyed and Painless

Facts all come with points of view, facts don’t do what I want them to.

Even Toni Basil’s anachronistic street dancing video couldn’t spoil this one. 4/4 cowbell beat, back and forth answering synth and guitar gestures, and Byrne’s obsession with words and facts as objects, plus a nicely amusing nasal spoken middle bit. Not my favourite track, but you can dance to it. You can dance to it.

(I did like the car in the video.)

The Great Curve

A world of light, she’s gonna open our eyes up.

Awesome, in the truest sense of the word. Apparently recorded in the NASA Vehicle Assembly building, judging by the reverb. Synth/horn stabs, guitar salvos echoing off like tracer into the night, and the multi-layered vocal washes, first one, then the other, then both giving the impression of an ecstatic African choir (which it probably was). Wonderful. It would have worked excellently as the last track on the album, just saying…

Once in a Lifetime

There is water at the bottom of the ocean

What can I say? This must have been incredibly different to anything when it came out. Looped synth wailing, shuffling cyclic drums, someone going “mur mur” in time with the bass after every phrase.

The lyrics about water were reflected in the burbling background. Other than that, was it just an extension of the preacher stuff on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts? Dunno. Wonderful expression of looking around and trying to see where you’ve been and where you might go from here. It ties in with Born Under Punches in that respect.

The live Stop Making Sense version emphasised the final triumpant chords, but I prefer the studio version.

Houses in Motion

Wearing shoes with no socks in cold weather.

I love the two-note guitar running through this – it provides a simple backbone for the squelchy noises, reverbed quacks and throbs of bass. Lyrically, it’s another discussion of architecture, the human body, self-awareness and transformation – seems to be the theme of the album.

Is that Eno on some kind of flute in the middle?

Seen and Not Seen

Some people may have gotten halfway there, and then changed their minds.

More about the transformation again. You can really tell where Byrne is at, sometimes. Listening to this album along with My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and Music For The Knee Plays, and reading the Stop Making Sense liner notes, there’s this thread of matter-of-fact statements about the world, people and the future.

More cyclic percussion, synth noodling, harmonic murmuring, echoing pulses of guitar, and and ecstatic sense of losing control of your own image.

Listening Wind

Mojique plants devices in the free trade zone.

Something about Red Indians?

OK, sorry. This is definitely a more political statement, about reservations and “my people’s land” and all that. I’m too ignorant to go into it too much. Again with the cyclic rhythms, washes of atmospherics, small guitar remarks and pulses.

The Overload

We travel on the quiet road

Stark yet warm. Empty yet stifling. Throbbing. Bits of it sound like Sonic Attack by Hawkwind, which is reasonable considering the power of the nonstop bass. Could be played at double the speed and still make sense.

This is my favourite Talking Heads album, despite dalliances with all the others. I can still listen to this end-to-end, starting on either side. Plus the cover is great – someone just got the new software paintbox and scribbled on the photos. Nice.

And you may say to yourself, “My God, what have I done?”

 

New Laptop Damage Photos

An update on this little saga. These are some photos of my new laptop and the box it came in, showing the cracked screen, and the lack of visible damage to the box. System76 are sending me a replacement, and they’ve raised a ticket with UPS.

Laptop Decision Tree

New Laptop Decision Tree

The time had come to get a new laptop. My little Ubuntu-running Dell 10v just wasn’t cutting it, and Cassie wants her MacBook for her own stuff.

The following chart illustrates my journey.

Laptop Decision Tree

graph created in GraphViz

First question was what OS I wanted. I definitely don’t want Windows for obvious reasons. I currently run Ubuntu, but the little 10v wasn’t that great for running the full Ubuntu, so it was using Lubuntu instead. I don’t want to get mired in Apple products any more than necessary, so Linux it was. But did I want to install it over the top of something else? Did I want to pay the Microsoft OEM cost just to overwrite it? I know that someone managed to get a refund on Windows by not letting it start when they turned on their new computer, but I don’t have the moral fibre for that.

I wanted preinstalled as well, because there are still issues with some hardware, so it’s safer to get the vendor to set it all up. There are a couple of small vendors that make laptops like this, so after some reading of reviews and forum threads, I decided on System 76. I double-checked the features and prices, had a good chat with one of their sales team, and then bought a System76 Lemur Ultra 14″ laptop.

time passes…

I received my new laptop yesterday, and I actually made an unboxing video, which I was going to edit together using OpenShot (it can deal with Handycam MTS files, apparently) when I got the new machine going.

Unfortunately, when I peeled off the screen protector and switched the machine on, I saw that there was a huge 5″ crack across the bottom left corner of the screen. As it continued to boot, I could see that the right-hand half of the screen seemed OK, and it was displaying the desktop, telling me the wifi had been detected, and asking me to select my language. The left-hand side was totally busted up and broken and displaying psychedelic patterns. Pretty, but not what I was hoping for.

I raised a ticket with System76, and they are sending me a new machine. They’ve raised a ticket with UPS, who delivered it. The box didn’t show any damage though, so I’m not sure what will happen there. Anyway, I’ll get a new laptop, then send this one back to them. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Massively Important Website Subtitle Change Alert

That’s a quite a bad one. Quite severe chafing.

The subtitle of this blog used to be “30ahem Englishman in California”.

It is now “40ahem Englishman in California”. See if you can spot the difference. I can’t, my eyes the way they are.

Ah, jeez.

My brother tells me that when you hit this age, you no longer say you’ve “tripped up” or “fallen over”. You have to say you’ve “had a fall”.

40th Party Playlist

Here’s the playlist I go on about here, with links to Last.fm if you feel the need.

Paul Simon : Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
Sparks : This Town Aint Big Enough For The Both Of Us
10cc : Rubber Bullets
Kraftwerk : Autobahn (remix)
Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music : Let’s Stick Together
The Stranglers : Peaches
OMD : Messages
Adam and the Ants? : Stand & Deliver
Echo & The Bunnymen : The Back of Love
New Order : Temptation
Heaven 17 : Temptation
Frankie Goes To Hollywood : Two Tribes
David Bowie : Loving The Alien
Depeche Mode : Shake The Disease
Pet Shop Boys : Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)
M : Pop Muzik
Curiosity Killed The Cat : Misfit
S’Express : Theme From S’Express
Prefab Sprout : The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Voice Of The Beehive : Don’t Call Me Baby
Eurythmics : You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart
Capella : Helyom Halib
Pop Will Eat Itself : Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina (Edited Highlights)
MC Tunes versus 808 State : The Only Rhyme That Bites
The KLF : Last Train to Trancentral (Live From the Lost Continent)
Pulp : Babies
Beastie Boys : Intergalactic
Madonna : Ray Of Light
Alessi Brothers : Oh Lori
Elvis Costello : Pump It Up
Squeeze : Up the Junction
Blondie : Sunday Girl
ABBA : Does Your Mother Know
ABBA : Waterloo
Amii Stewart : Knock On Wood
The Specials : Rat Race
The Specials : Ghost Town
Tenpole Tudor : Swords of a Thousand Men
The Human League : The Sound Of The Crowd
Tom Tom Club : Wordy Rappinghood
ABC : The Look of Love
Hot Chocolate : Girl Crazy
Ultravox : Dancing With Tears in My Eyes
Duran Duran : The Reflex
Howard Jones : Pearl In The Shell
Grandmaster & Melle Mel : White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)
Duran Duran : A View To A Kill
Tears for Fears : Head Over Heels
The Cult : She Sells Sanctuary
Brotherhood Of Man : Save Your Kisses For Me
Bryan Ferry : The In Crowd
China Crisis : King In A Catholic Style (Wake Up)
Freeez : I O U
Fun Boy Three : Our Lips Are Sealed
Wings : Live And Let Die
Plastic Bertrand : Ca Plane Pour Moi
Ramones : Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
The Sex Pistols : God Save The Queen
Peter Gabriel : Sledgehammer
Tears for Fears : Everybody wants to Rule the World
Gary Glitter : Rock And Roll (Part 1)
Doctor & The Medics : Spirit In The Sky
Van McCoy : The Shuffle
Pet Shop Boys : It’s A Sin
New Order : Blue Monday
R.E.M. : Orange Crush
Depeche Mode : Policy of Truth
Manic Street Preachers : From Despair To Where
The Prodigy : No Good (Start The Dance)
Radiohead : Paranoid Android
Supergrass : Pumping On Your Stereo
Eddy Grant : Electric Avenue
Gorillaz : Clint Eastwood
Eminem : Without Me
The Darkness : Growing On Me
Beastie Boys : Ch-Check it Out
The Streets : Fit But You Know It
Gorillaz : Feel Good Inc.
The Early Years : So Far Gone
McAlmont & Butler : Yes
Black Grape : Reverend Black Grape
Double Trouble & the Rebel MC : Just Keep Rockin
Electric Six : Gay Bar
Tone Loc : Funky Cold Medina
Kirsty MacColl : Walking Down Madison
Kula Shaker : Tattva
Neneh Cherry : Manchild
Space : Female Of The Species
Talk Talk : Its My Life
The Verve : Bitter Sweet Symphony

40 Years Of Top 40 Hits

I wanted to create a fun playlist to play at my 40th birthday do last weekend, so I came up with this idea. I looked around online and found this website which has a database of the UK charts back to the 1950’s. Then I searched for the top 40 from June in each year, starting with 1972, the year of my birth (here’s the first one). Then I picked out my favorite song from each of those lists, which would be good in a party playlist (IMHO), and which (crucially) I had in my library.

Obviously, to begin with there were only a few songs to pick out. Later on, of course, as I got into the 1980’s, there were more than one song in June that I wanted to include. So I let the rules lapse a bit and included them. Sod it.

Then, as I got further into the late 90’s, tracks I liked (or indeed recognized) started to dry up. This was due to a couple of pretty obvious factors. I wasn’t listening to chart music that much, due to it not being aimed at me. I won’t stoop so low as to claim that “music wasn’t good anymore” – if I start claiming that, I will truly be an old man. I hope never to believe that nonsense. Charts are only one measure – songs that the kids are buying.

In fact, when I was downloading songs off YouTube, the top voted comment was very often something along the lines of:

I gotta say, I really respect the generation of 80’s/90’s electronic music lovers. I really have no hope in today’s music. I mean seriously… the shit that people call ‘pop’ music in 2012… makes me feel ashamed

or

im 15 and listen to this haha! better than the boring shit nowadays 😀

or

what happened to good music like this wth is this new lmfao stuff all there songs are about sex, drugs, and parties, these songs have good meaning and REAL Talent thumbs up if you agree

Oh, do fuck off.

Ah well yes, opinion and taste and everything. This playlist was for a party with a specific theme. Milestone year and all that. Also, it was meant as a historical and transatlantic cultural curiousity – most of the guests wouldn’t be familiar with the UK charts in the 1980’s.

In some cases, I didn’t actually have a copy of the song I wanted to include. This was remedied in various ways, including the wonderful SnipMP3.com, which is a tool for downloading an MP3 of the audio track of a YouTube video. There are many tracks available there – people post videos of the vinyl going round, or of some dodgy animated disco dancer, in the case of club tracks and white labels.

Anyway, it was a lot pf fun putting the list together. I wanted to export it into Spotify somehow, so I found Playlistify, which claims to take an uploaded iTunes playlist XML file and convert it into a Spotify playlist. I tried it, and it managed to find 60 out of the 90 songs. So here’s a link to the created playlist. Doesn’t seem to work well – I’ll fix it later. Oh well.

Stuffed Weekend

Quite the weekend it’s been I think. Friday after work I met up with Cassie and our dear friends Alex & Jason at Bar 355 in downtown Oakland. It’s become the Friday joint of choice for us, because we always seem to be able to nab the nice table near the door, the cocktails and beers are good, and the barman looks like John Stamos and fancies Cassie. After a couple of drinks and a good letting off of the weeks steam there, Cassie and I went to eat at the wonderful Shan Dong a few blocks away in Oakland’s Chinatown. It was just as busy, steamy, and formica-y as ever. We ended up (as usual) over-ordering and brings some boxes home.

Saturday I rose early, took G out for his walk and, grabbed some cereal, and then went out to be all community spirited and help out on the Montclair Railroad Trail. There’s a regular work day one Saturday a month, and seeing as I walk Gordon on this trail every day, I felt that I should help out. I thought it would be a few people grabbing a rake and weeding here and there, but it’s much more structured. There’s an ongoing effort to eliminate non-native grasses, which apparently are the reason California is so brown – the native stuff is much more able to handle the heat. The European stuff came along, took over, and then died when the sun came out.

To get rid of it, we laid down sheets of cardboard (donated by various stores in the village, especially Wheels of Justice Cyclery – they have the big flat boxes that bikes come in) then raked mulch over the top. The mulch was donated by a private tree maintenance company. Normally the city would provide it, but budget cuts mean that the city’s trees aren’t getting the maintenance they need. Basically the work consisted of filling wheelbarrows with the mulch, then wheeling it over a tipping it over the cardboard, where the others raked it into a 6″ deep layer. It will stifle the grass, and then replanting can take place. There’s a long term plan in place, I guess.

It was pretty hot. As the morning wore on, When one co-worker asked why I wasn’t wearing a hat, I replied, “Because I don’t think ahead.” I didn’t mean it as a joke, but he seemed to think it was pretty funny, and went on to say something about mad dogs and Englishmen. I think I need a hat.

Once we’d done our stint, I went home for a long cool shower and some lunch. As it was so nice out, we took Gordon to Point Isabel for a walk by the bay. He had a great time trotting along, yelling hello at the other dogs, and although there isn’t much access to it, he managed to get into the water. He likes to get in, get wet, but as soon as he is splashed by a wave or another dog he decides he’s had enough and sits up on the rocks and sulks.

He needed a bath after that (he was a bit stinky anyway) so we took him to Mudpuppy’s, where we put him in for a service wash. They scrubbed and dried him, while we had an Iced Latte, and I had an It’s It ice cream sandwich, which is apparently a San Francisco institution. Very nice too. We looked in on Gordon while he was being done – he doesn’t like baths, but he doesn’t try to escape. He just stands and looks sad.

While we were resting and drinking our coffee, I noticed a dog looking very intently at a hole in the ground. I soon saw why. A gopher (I think) kept poking its head out of the hole, and the dog just stood there and watched it. I think it was just old, or maybe it couldn’t be bothered. See it here in glorious 90-degree-o-vision.

In the evening, we went to Speisekammer in Alameda, which is a nice German restaurant. Over beer and delicious sauerbraten and schnitzel (seriously!) we talked about what was next. What was next was to drive into San Francisco and get in on the guest list to a charity event to raise money for prostate cancer research. Knowing Taylor has its advantages, but some of these events we go to are a little unexpected. Still, it was fun. Quite the busy Saturday all told.

Today we had a great (and filling) brunch with our friend Teena at La Note in Berkeley, which is a French restaurant very popular among the brunch crowd, especially on (Father’s Day, it would appear). We did the usual coffee, OJ and egg dishes, with some nice pastries on top, just in case we weren’t totally stuffed.

That was basically the theme of the weekend, really.

Promethean Chasms

*** Lots of spoilers, watch out. Last warning ***

Went to see Prometheus on Sunday at the UA on Shattuck in Berkeley. Chose to see it in 3D – we figured this film at least would be worth it, and it was – for visuals at least. 3D or not, it looked fantastic. I loved the shots of the ship contrasting against the planet – amazing sense of space and scale. Wonderful shot of space, with this tiny streak of light moving across it.

We came out of it disappointed, though.

Some thrown-out comments:

(Many of these have been discussed in other, more coherent reviews, such as this one, and this discussion of the whole Alien saga. This is my review. There are many like it, but this one is mine. (Wait a minute that was Kubrick wasn’t it? Blast.))

We understand that filmmaking and SFX have progressed since 1979, but if Prometheus is set before Alien, shouldn’t the technology be less flashy and slick? OK, this is a fancy Company vessel (with a comfy lifeboat for plot reasons), but it’s not a “ship of the line”. It’s a one-off exploratory ship, that cost a trillion to build – because it was a one-off? Cut back on the frills, perhaps. Less of the cathedral-sized rooms. OK, Nostromo is a mining vessel.

Actually, the lifeboat wasn’t for plot reasons, it was to support a single plot point. Boo.

What was the music doing? During bits that were supposed to be scary, there was this theme that sounded like it wanted to be uplifting.

Some reviews have said that wanted more “answers”. Early hype about an Alien prequel said that they may reveal how humans, the Space Jockeys/Engineers, and the xenomorphs are connected. To which I say, why do they need to be connected? Can’t they just all coexist in the infinite uncaring universe, and happen to bump into each other? I don’t like it when prequel-makers feel the need to explain every last frame of the original. (see also: the book Blade Runner 2, The Thing remake, Star Wars).

Why don’t the crew know what they’re doing? Why is Geologist (aka Ian Curtis from 24 Hour Party People) so antagonistic towards Biologist? They’re both scientists, they could at least talk about fossils. Forced characterisation. That Scottish lady was terrible, and she disappeared halfway through. I didn’t recognise half the crew.

I noticed the use of old Giger concept art for Alexandro Jodorowsky’s aborted movie of Dune in 1975. The Engineer Domes especially reminded me of Giger’s design for the Harkonnen stronghold. Many others noticed this too – check out this forum thread with lots of pictures.

You can build an interstellar spacecraft that looks like it’s very comfortable and spacious, you can build a conscious android, but you can’t provide other robots and probes. Even the new Bay Bridge span has remote maintenance drones, not to mention

The laser scanning probes were cool. My company uses that kind of thing already. Check out Leica’s range of scanners. They don’t fly, but give it a few years. Send the probes in first! Never mind Twatty Holloway wanting to open his presents.

Keep your helmet on, even if you think there’s air. You’re on an alien planet, in an artificial structure, with liquid dripping everywhere. Keep your helmet during further visits, when you know there is danger. Warn others to keep their helmets on after you know there’s danger.

If you are a powerful Company woman with a special lifeboat with a medical pod, make sure it’s configured to fix women, not just men. OK, it was for Guy Pearce, whose unconvincing prostheses needed touching up regularly.

If you’re the designer of medical pods, don’t deliberately design in the limitation that it can be configured to only fix one sex. Human males and females are exactly the same apart from couple of very small differences.

Why cast Guy Pearce and then cover him in bad “old man” makeup, if you’re never going to show him young? Or are we expected to watch every last bit of teaser trailer to get the most out of the movie itself? Or maybe there will be an extended made-up “Director’s Cut” with a young Guy Pearce, based on the myth that the director didn’t have total control over the movie in the first place.

We knew David was going to have an agenda, but it was revealed almost immediately, and he carried it out in plain sight. And yes, David liked Lawrence of Arabia, but how did it affect his behaviour? This was made a thing of in the previews, but I couldn’t see any objective evidence.

So Stills’ squeezebox got obliterated?

O'Bannon's octopus-like facehugger

The octopoid (quadropoid?) alien reminded me of the descriptions in some of the early treatments by Dan O’Bannon in 1978. They take an alien skull back to the ship then as well. Seems like they were making an effort to tie in with earlier work from Giger, O’Bannon and so on. Fan service?

(In that script I linked to above, the ship is called the “Snark” – nice reference. Also, the only survivor is a man (no heroic females), and the lifeboat looks a lot like the eponymous ship in Dark Star.

This was what got us confused the most – the aliens. Never mind the Engineers, who we never really knew were bad guys until they acted like it. No I’m talking about the bugs, worms, snakes and octopi. Which was which? Were they all the same? I’ve tried to lay out what we saw below. If you can tell me some links I’ve missed, please tell me.

Error generating Graphviz image:

Graphviz cannot generate graph
Command: /usr/bin/dot '-Kdot' '-Tpng' '-o/home/petty/www/www/wp-content/tfo-graphviz/123ee4b0a2c06430cc7088d9a4574fc4.png'
Output: 
Error: : syntax error in line 5 near '-'

Original DOT:
    1 
    2 digraph
    3 Prometheus_Prologue {
    4 node [style="rounded,filled";shape=box;];
    5 "Engineer" -> "drinks stuff" -> "DNA breakdown" -> "DNA gets in the water";
    6 label="Prologue. Where was this? Engineer Homeworld? Earth? Scene of Movie?";
    7 }

Error generating Graphviz image:

Graphviz cannot generate graph
Command: /usr/bin/dot '-Kdot' '-Tpng' '-o/home/petty/www/www/wp-content/tfo-graphviz/6137a724ce6af0826aad09838bcf1cb6.png'
Output: 
Error: : syntax error in line 6 near '-'

Original DOT:
    1 
    2 digraph
    3 Prometheus_Creatures {
    4 node [style="rounded,filled";shape=box;];
    5 
    6 "Nanos" -> "Nanos inside Canister" -> "Holloway" -> "Holloway Nearly Monster" -> "Holloway burns";
    7 "Nanos" -> "Nanos on wall" -> "Same as the others?";
    8 "Nanos" -> "Nanos on canister" -> "Nanos on Floor";
    9 "Holloway" -> "Shaw impregnated" -> "Baby Quadropus" -> "Big Quadropus" -> "Engineer impregnated" -> "Xenomorph precursor";
   10 "White Worm" -> "Biologist" -> "New White Worm?";
   11 "Nanos on Floor" -> "Geologist" -> "Geologist Monster" -> "Geologist Monster burns";
   12 "Segmented worms" -> "What?";
   13 
   14 label="Prometheus Creature(s) Lifecycle";
   15 labelfloat="true";
   16 
   17 }

(This graph was brought to you by GraphViz and the lovely TFO GraphViz plugin. It allows you to create charts in text like “A -> B”, which then shows up as a little digraph. Super nice.)

Overall, I’m glad I went to see it on the big screen, and in 3D. It gave me an excuse to watch Alien and Aliens again with my friends (we didn’t bother with 3 or 4). But it’s still a shame.

At least the new Total Recall is going to be AWESOME!