Quick video. I’m behind the camera.
Quick video. I’m behind the camera.
Quick video. I’m behind the camera.
More amazing shots from our visiting New Orleans photog.
More beautiful shots of SF from Patrick. We were treading carefully on the roof to get these.
Beautiful picture and plane. The SF-Oakland Bay Bridge is obvious, with Yerba Buena/Treasure Island right below. But is that red tower on the north shore to the left the start of the building of the Golden Gate bridge, or is it out of frame? The bridge was started in 1931 and completed in 1937, and the Boeing 314 was built in 1936. I think the former. Cool.
Either way, beautiful shot, beautiful plane, beautiful city.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation joined civil liberties and privacy groups in criticizing a proposal from the San Francisco Entertainment Commission that would require all venues with an occupancy of over 100 people to record the faces of all patrons and employees and scan their ID’s for storage in a database which they must hand over to law enforcement on request. If adopted, these rules would pose a grave threat to the rights of freedom of association, due process, and privacy in San Francisco.
Public meeting tonight – I would definitely go if I wasn’t flying off to get married tomorrow. What is it with these government entities suggesting new sets of laws which are shown to be unworkable if given the slightest bit of analysis? And don’t say “straw man” to me.
When I was growing up, I would get my hair cut at Tony’s Italian Barber in Bedford. There was a big Italian community in the town, due to the brickworks I think. Tony the owner would snip away, while his friends would sit around playing with strange cards. While waiting I would take the opportunity to “read” the Sun and the Mirror, and listen to Chiltern FM (“transmitted from the mighty Sandy Heath transmitter“) – not my usual media. It was a spare but efficient place – I remember Tony’s straight razor scraping the back of my neck several times. They had the amusing black-and-white photos of the haircuts you could get, but would never want, and aftershave and cologne in bottles that looked like pinecones. Next to the rattly old cash register was hung a card of styptic pencils, which would stop any bleeding you walked out with. There may have been a topless pinup.
I had long hair for a while.
At college I got a set of electric clippers and would cut my own hair, No. 2 all over. Alternatively I would go to the 3-chair barber inside Afflecks Palace, and watch TV or listen to the latest 808 State while getting a £5 trim.
In London I went to a small local place, and sometimes a place at Euston Station where they vacuumed your head afterward to avoid post-snip neck tickle. When I moved to the US, Cassie insisted I go to her stylist in LA. A very pleasant experience, complete with hair washing, fashionable magazines and comfortable sofas, but it did take up to three hours, especially when she was having her hair done at the same time. In San Francisco I have succumbed to Supercuts a couple of times, through necessity and convenience, but I’ve never been happy with the results.
Finally I tried to find a regular gent’s barber downtown near where I work. There are some very trendy places in SoMa and around the Mission, but even when they’re regular barbers they are so teeth-achingly knowingly “authentic” I don’t enjoy being there. The Original Palace Barber Shop on the corner of Mission and 2nd Street, just a couple of blocks from my office, turned out to be just the place I was looking for. I nearly missed it due to a droopy awning and the fact it’s tiny, but inside are six chairs, no space, and a good basic haircut.
In fact it reminded me of Tony’s – scuffed laminate wall cladding, lino worn through to tile, strange bottles and potions on skewiff shelving. I poked my head in, a lady at the back beckoned me in and sat me down, and she only spoke to ask what I wanted and to state the price. I will be going back.
Cassie took me to see Montreal-based popular beat combo Stars at The Independent last night. She knows the band well, having known singer Amy Millan for a long time, and seeing them in London and LA. We went to see Amy and her band play a small show at Cafe du Nord a few months ago, so I got to meet her then. Cassie plays Stars a lot in the car, so I’ve got to know some of the songs pretty well. Cassie describes them as “baroque pop”, and I’d say that covers it. They have some rocking stuff, ballads, groovy little danceÂ numbers, all sorts. It’s a six-piece, or at least there were six people on stage, so there’s lots of room for different sounds and atmospherics.
Because Cassie knows the band, we were on the guest list, and were able to go up to the VIP balcony, which is a balcony. No hookers’n’blow or hot tub, sadly, but a great view of the stage. From our vantage point I was peering closely at the equipment – apart from the guitars and drums, the keyboardist had some fancy workstation andÂ piano, the singer had a little synth on a crosstand, and the bass player had a Little Phatty which he used instead of his 4-string on some songs. The venue is great – it’s part owned by one of the executives at Cassie’s company, and they had done quite a lot of renovation, which seemed to be mostly about stripping back fripperies (a bar in the center of the auditorium? Maybe it was a club beforehand.) to make it a straightforward venue with good access, great bar, and a spacious yet compact feel. Nice.
When we went in, Torq the singer was sitting on stage with a laptop, playing songs, asking trivia questions about them, and throwing copies of the new CD to those who got the answer right. He played Human by the Human League, and asked what biographical detail he and the League had in common. I thought to myself, “Sheffield?”, which turned out to be right. Then he played an old Cath Carroll song I hadn’t heard in years, which pleased me no end. In between tracks he was blowing bubbles into the audience as well, which is cute.
The band proper started by playing the new album (released today) start-to finish, then came back to play audience favorites as voted by the fans on their website. I recognized many of the songs because the new album has been streaming on NPR recently. I remember NPR talked about their last album in 2007 too – NPR clearly like Stars a lot.
Most of the songs revolve around Torq and Amy singing, with the songs mostly being about relationships and all that follows. They also do solo numbers, and the songs cover all sorts ofÂ genres. They’re been doing this for over 10 years, and Cassie said their earlier stuff was rockier, with more gentle themes coming through more recently.
The audience was into it. At first they were a little quiet, probably because the new album isn’t released until today (although what does that mean? It’s been streaming online, and I’m sure it’s available through the naughty channels already). The band make a big deal of communicating with the audience, and the gratitudeÂ was a little cheesy in places, but it seemed sincere and heartfelt, so fair enough.
After a short break they came back on and did a full set of requested songs from their back catalogue, which the audience lapped up. They were dancing and singing along, and the band was enjoying themselves, and it was all good. The encore was another half-set, which pleased the crowd no end, and a final encore was Torq and the keyboard player Chris Seligman, with a lovely piano piece.
After the show, we went backstage and met Amy, and Cassie introduced me to the rest of the band, who were all very nice. Torq was pleased that I’d recognized the Cath Carroll song in the opening set, and Amy was really happy to see Cassie. There was lots of activity backstage, because the tour is ongoing, but we were able to have a drink and chat with the band, in between them getting changed, and the manager and local promoter making plans for a fan-only gig later in the year (you heard it here first!).
When it was time to go – to bed for Cassie and I, and to get food and/or go to the hotel for the band – we walked them out, to find a group of fans waiting for autographs and to give gifts. They’d been waiting in the cold for ages! As Cassie said, it felt good, and a bit bad, to be able to kiss Amy goodbye in front of them, and say, “See you soon!”.
Empty caveat: This post contains criticism of books I haven’t read. I know, right?
Cassie has recently been reading a couple of books recommended by her book club which got her very annoyed. I could tell she was annoyed because she would be reading in bed next to me, then suddenly exclaim something rude, drop the book on the floor and switch the light out.
The first book was The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, and it sounds insufferable to me, just from Shriver’s own description of herself. Grammar snob, “look at me I live in London and know what snooker is”. Drawn-out descriptions of fancy cooking just for the sake of it. The takeaway message? I AM BETTER THAN YOU.
The second book was Grounded, by Seth Stevenson, in which the author and his girlfriend go round the world using only ground transport like ships. A nice idea; Michael Palin made a gentle TV show from it late last century. But it would appear that Herr Stevenson is ALSO BETTER THAN YOU, because not only does he travel this way and write about it, he suggests frequently throughout that people who travel by air are not worthy to see the rest of the world and sample its cultures and cuisines. There is a drawback to travelling by tramp steamer across the Pacific, and that is the very long journey times and lack of entertainment (not to mention the danger of press gangs and – or is that not? No? OK then). But for most of you, this wouldn’t be a problem because your slovenly ape-brains don’t get bored by long stretches of time; they are too busy being amazed by the reality of a metal ship that floats. You’ve got it lucky, because Stevenson’s girlfriend, who is better than him and therefore WAY BETTER THAN YOU, is almost driven insane, her finely-tuned homo superior grey matter shrivelling away at the lack of stimulation.
On their travels they do the usual “authentic” travel experience, with exotic sweetmeats and bizarre (bazaar?) toilet arrangements ramming home how foreign the world can be, how safe your life is, and how exciting life can be when you leave the herdflock behind.
Both Stevenson and Shriver suffer from the kind of snobbery which suggests that one thing is “real”, while another thing, despite existing, is not. This idea is something that has bugged me for a while now, and a lot of my little bugbears can be traced to the suggestion that something I do or enjoy is not “real”. Music, film, coffee, bicycling. I must write something more substantial about this.
Meanwhile, I’m reading A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, which is worrying close to Pr@tchett, but a bit darker. Cassie gave me it for my birthday, and it’s set in San Francisco, and so far it’s pretty good. After Junky and Cloud Atlas something lighter was required.
Of course, being a newcomer to the city, I’m going through that phase of being attracted to media that mentions or contains my new home. I found that irksome when I shared a house in Marlow with some Hounslow girls, who were always surprised at seeing London on the TV. The Princess Diaries is set here, as well as bits of Star Trek. Now that’s real entertainment.
I seem to be following these things around. When I lived in San Diego, I was able to go to ComicCon twice, and now in San Francisco we have WonderCon, run by the same people, but a bit smaller and mellower, as it turns out.
Of course, my buddy Brian, being a makeup artist and therefore an “industry person”, gets free passes for himself and an entourage, so all I have to do is lay out the lilo and have guests for the weekend. Brian, Stacey and their Golden Retriever Camden arrived Friday afternoon, and we had a pleasant weekend of geekery. (They were supposed to come up on Thursday, but Brian had a short-notice job applying makeup to Ernest Borgnine and Mickey Rooney).
WonderCon is much smaller that ComicCon, much less crowded, and the big names like DC and Marvel don’t have huge staged kiosks. In a way that made it better, because it allowed the smaller publishers and artists to stand out more. We did our usual wandering and browsing, Brian adding to the Kinney Hoard Museum of Action Figures, and then picked out some panels and talks to go to. Again, because of the smaller scale, it seemed easier to get to more of these interesting events. Of course, some of the panels were huge draws, such as the Arkham Asylum Forensic Psychology panel (“Is The Joker psychotic or psychopathic? How does that affect the law? Should he be in prison or the asylum?”). The huge line running round and round the corridors put me off that. There was also a big buzz about Dr Who, so any mention of that brought the fans running. We chose smaller stuff.
Creator’s Rights was a useful panel about how artists and authors should approach publishing, with horror stories of unscrupulous publishers ripping artists off. The upshot seemed to be to get someone (anyone, if not a lawyer) to read any paperwork and keep your trademarks. One panelist said to just post your work to a blog, and then use a Print On Demand service like Lulu.com to publish physical books yourself – your rights would be protected. What does a publisher bring to the table anyway? Brian was interested in this because he has a story that he wants to publish as a comic book (as part of a wider continuum of “product”) with an artist friend of his. I think they just need a kind of pre-nup.
Wandering around, I saw a short line leading up to Max Brooks, who was signing copies of his comic book Recorded Attacks, as well as anything else you wanted. I love his zombie books, so I took the opportunity to buy a copy and get it signed, and he was very friendly and charming, making a note in the book that the UK was my home – there was a recorded zombie attack in the North of England in Roman Times. That’s what Hadrian’s Wall was for. When I told Cassie of my nice encounter with the nice man, she asked if I had “asked him to sign my balls”. Such a classy lady.
I was interested in the Special Effects Makeup Demo, if only because I wanted to see what Brian would say about the guy’s technique. It seemed pretty good – he got a volunteer (with a revealing neckline) to have a nasty neck wound attached. While he did the application, makeup, and final oozing blood, he talked about techniques, materials and took the opportunity to play a trailer of some crappy zombie cowboy movie he did the effects for. I’m all for the little guy doing it for cheap, but jeez.
Following straight on from that was a demo of body casting, with one volunteer having her arm done in plaster, another having half his face (and beard) done in alginate, and a third having his palm done with silicon rubber. The presenter, in his bowler hat, (necessary) eye patch and leather apron, looked very much the quirky Con-attendee. He used a pocket watch to time his talk, which was pretty cool, and answered questions about materials, costs, tricks and techniques.
Saturday evening we had pub grub and pints at The Irish Bank, which I’d not visited before. It was originally called The Bank Of Ireland, but had to change its name after a complaint from the financial institution thousands of miles away. Fools.
The next day, after some freshly baked croissants, we hit the Con again. First up was Spotlight On Max Brooks, with my mate Max talking to a big room full of fans. Sitting behind the usual long front table, he said he didn’t like being alone, so he asked members of the audience to join him. He then aimed most of his talk, which covered his career, the status of the movie of World War Z (script due “in a month or so”), the GI Joe comic and so on, at a 10-year-old boy in the audience, which was really cute. Brian asked a good question about why the audiobook was abridged: because you have to pay all the different performers. It’s the same reason the movie will have to be big – it’s a global epic, with many settings, characters, and individual stories. He was really funny, frank, and informative – definitely his parent’s son. And just about a fortnight older than me!
The presentation by the Bay Area R2-D2 Builders Club was fascinating. They have all built, or are building, are are continually improving, full-sized functional radio-controlled models of the Star Wars R2-D2 droid (or variations thereof). The examples on display were astonishingly detailed, this one even including the hologram projection feature. The talk gave some tips about materials, costs (a lot), time costs (a lot), and impact on family life (a lot). I wish I had that kind of dedication, passion, skill, money, time and a workshop. If I made myself a droid (which I won’t, especially after the stress of the zombie collars last year), it would be one of these, only in Rebel orange and white. Perhaps a Death Star maintenance droid would be more possible – a radio-controlled car with a box on top. Lick of paint.
As a final treat we went to a very interesting panel on Local TV Horror Hosting, with discussions of history, method, anecdotes about the crazy people involved, and so on. They showed a short video about a few of the local heroes of the scene, including The Ghoul, Vampira, and Bob Wilkins. I had a flash of remembrance when seeing Zacherley – I thought he had been the model for one of the Horror Trumps cards I had when I was a kid. But when I checked I remembered the model was actually Lon Chaney (father of Wolfman Jr) in Tod Browning‘s London After Midnight, with his top hat and teeth. The idea was very popular up until cable TV and VCRs became so big – local stations would show mostly-rubbish old movies, topped and tailed with these hosts making terrible puns on creaking sets. For most people, this was the only chance to see these movies – they weren’t in theaters any more, and VCRs weren’t around yet. Their styles were very different – Vampira of course was the wasp-waisted scream queen, The Ghoul was wacky and over-the-top, with tonnes of props and fireworks, and Bob Wilkins (my favourite from the short clips we saw) was very understated, sitting in his rocking chair and making dry, disparaging comments about the films he was showing. Local cable stations still have similar hosts, but they are no longer so popular. But podcasts give them the chance to go back to their radio roots, and YouTube and Vimeo can open up audiences. Nice history, hopeful future.
Bit of a rant. There is a lot of genre-spanning in the geek world (“I span all genres, they call me the genre spanner” “Well, they call you the spanner”). You can’t mention Joss Whedon without a certain amount of squealing about musical episodes, puppet episodes and so on. The recent hit book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has given rise to a sequel by the same author, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and plenty of copycats. A new movie about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is coming soon. Adding “zombie” to any profession or character opens up Halloween costume possibilities in the way that “sexy” still does. I think it’s all a bit fan-servicey and predictable. Within a year, we’ll have Puppet Zombie Benjamin Netanyahu: Vampire Hunter, The Musical: On Ice! (Holiday Special). And then where will we be? I’ll tell you – I don’t know, but this kind of pandering recycling does seem rather lazy.
Anyway, this Con was a lot of fun, and far less stressful than ComicCon last year, probably because I didn’t have to dress up as a domesticated zombie this time.
Cassie’s company had a team get-together at the Pacific Pinball Museum at Lucky JuJu in Alameda, and I was able to go along a bit later, after all the speeches, eat some pizza, drink a beer, and play some pinball.
After leaving work I walked to the aptly-named Ferry Building, which is a 15-minute walk. The main part of the building is now a very nice bustling market, with local producers and deli counters lining up to sell you 100 varieties of mushroom and “tasty salted pig parts“, and behind it are the ferry gangways. I joined a pleasantly large number of commuters on the San Francisco-Alameda Ferry, and took the 20-minute trip to the island. The trip itself (on the same kind of catamaran boat that took us to Catalina this time last year) is not that exciting, apart from going under the western span of the Bay Bridge, but Alameda is an interesting place. I have a couple of friends there, and they rave about how nice it is, with its lower rents, high concentration of Victorians, and sense of being just a step away from the condensed city life of San Francisco. Other people I’ve met have said that moving to the East Bay is “quitting”, but if that means quitting caring so desperately what people think of you, and not being one of the self-elected cool kids, then sign me up. Anyway.
After Cassie talked in from the bus, she introduced me to a few of her colleagues, who’d been there since 3 and were thoroughly enjoying the beer and pizza, and were betting money on the more unique games.
I played on the following machines.
I was a little disappointed they didn’t have the mechanical Killer Shark game I used to play as a kid, which you can see in the film Jaws. Only a bit though, because they had so many cool machines, and not a videogame in sight! Also really nice to meet Cassie’s colleagues, who all seem a fine bunch.
* If you watch the video, you can see “the digit counters fall” as Tommy scores 1000, 2000, 3000 points! A few people observed that the old machines gave you much lower scores. I suppose it was because the mechanical counters were more expensive and complex, so only using 4 or 5 was desirable. These were replaced with 7-segment displays, which guess were a lot cheaper, so you could reward players with 6 or 7 digit scores. The modern dot-matrix displays can show as many digits as you can cram onto them, and that and the invention of score multipliers, super bonusses, and other crazy scoring stuff, gives you the modern multi-million scores. It can be a bit frustrating to play a pinball machine and get a score of 17 million, only to find that the current high score stands at 193,535,777 by someone called “DIK”.