Monday, August 31, 2009

Portentious Statements About Air Disasters

While expressing his annoyance about the constant radio coverage of the Graf Zeppelin's inaugural flight, an anonymous New Yorker reporter had this to say on September 21, 1929:
The covering of the event was a good technical achievement. Microphones were hidden everywhere except in Lady Drummond Hay's hat, and the announcers spoke from planes, dangled off roofs, and even pursued the Zeppelin down the field, talking into the microphone as they ran. It was a weary business. If the Zeppelin ever mysteriously blows up, I advise the police to hold all radio announcers on suspicion.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Frustrating Ataxx Obsession

For the past month I've been trying to master Ataxx. The concept is a simple one -- combined with some wonderfully evil graphics and music in the arcade version -- but the damn Mushman (the foe of only "average" skill) beats me almost every time.

The more I play the game, the more I appreciate its complexity. You should be able to learn the best moves by simply watching the computer opponent, but he (or in the case of the busty Gorgon, she) keeps outsmarting me. This might be because I'm not an offensive player.

If anybody out there comes up with a list of hard-and-fast rules -- which must exist, because the computer follows some sort of algorithm -- please pass them along. The only ones I can find are written in poorly-translated French.


Another odd little video that I finally finished this morning: "Boxcar."

What do you do when your neighbour parks his junker car on your front lawn? You turn it into a constructive project.

I took my camera and tripod and filmed every piece of the car that I considered to be interesting. Since the horizon was rarely level with the car itself, I made a decision to always orient the camera based on the car's surfaces, which I think was a mistake: it causes the surrounding surfaces (roads, hedges, etc.) to appear skewed in a distracting sort of way.

Eventually I got the hang of avoiding reflections, and I also realized that late-afternoon light is very pretty when it bounces off metal.

My original idea was to mix the video clips with painstakingly hand-edited stills of the car, to make it look like a cartoon in the midst of a live landscape. Then I decided that it was a "too-tricky-clever" idea without any real point.

And since I was reading Iain Sinclair's "Lights Out for the Territory," I found myself getting more interested in the style of a film he frequently wrote about: "London" by Patrick Keiller. I hadn't seen the film at the time, but Sinclair's description of droll narration, motionless camera, and no-nonsense cuts was subconsciously inspiring...I was also thinking about Peter Greenaway's "The Falls." By referencing objects in the clips themselves, I wrote a little story and tried to find images that reflected the mood (rather than the content) of the clips.

I intercut with black frames to break the monotony of the images, and I threw a deliberately glitchy shot into the middle for the same reason. The background sounds are the ones from the clips themselves, with rougher sounds (like busses) removed and lots of denoising to compensate for my camera's crappy mic.

I hope you like it!

Neat Things I Found in My Scrapbox

One of the best things about moving is that I get to rediscover (and often throw out) all the cool things I've been pack-ratting during the last few decades. These things gradually accumulate in a box in the basement, bravely resisting spiders and dampness and being slowly forgotten...until the next move.

Here are some of the neat things I found in my scrapbox this time. At the very least they might add something to the growing internet presence of '90s small-press publishers and authors.

Issue #2 of "Zooomba!" This was an 8 1/2 x 11 'zine produced by Lisa Schwartzman in Waterloo during the early '90s. This issue doesn't have a date on it but I assume it's from 1994. In charming fashion, the cover is a photograph of a tapeworm being pulled from a child's bum.

Lisa was one of the members of "Philler," a CKMS sketch-comedy and audio-weirdness program from 1993 to 1994. Her style of humour was totally left-field...not so much "wacky" as "what the HELL?" She was extremely talented and I'm thrilled to see she's making YouTube videos.

Included in this issue of Zooomba: interviews with King Cobb Steelie, Gwar, and Consolodated. It also contains a brief dream recounted by late CKMS cult-peronality Eddy Schneider: "I had a dream about Groucho Marx last night. Something about duck soup. Pop goes the weasel."

PS: Eddy Schneider was unique. He released three improvisational cassettes of him endlessly riffing on a theme...singing the Star Wars theme for half an hour, for instance. His most beloved cassette was an extended one-man impersonation of race-track noises, which he made by shouting "Vrum-bum-bum-bum!" into a microphone that he virtually swallowed.

Someday I'll put some of his stuff online. You will be amazed.

Volumes 1 and 2 of "Phoenix." Produced and financed by the University of Waterloo's Arts Student Union, this was a nice (but somewhat shortlived) chapbook edited by Shirley Moore, Tamara Knezic, Clint Turcotte, and Lindsay Stewart. I later got to know Clint through the English Society, and I became the sidekick to his "Captain Arts" superhero persona. Lindsay is still very much active in the K/W arts scene...I was always blown away by his contributions to writers workshops and his "Slowpoke" readings at the old Purple Turtle cafe.

"Vampires or Gods?" by William Meyers. I was quite intrigued by Meyer's independent "III Publishing" company. He tended to print books with an illuminatus/conspiracy angle and I was never sure how seriously he took it all. This particular book's thesis is that the mythical immortal heroes -- Osiris, Dionysus, Hercules, Krishna, Quetzalcoatl -- were actually vampires. No, really.

Like all the III Publishing books this one is lovingly produced, but the cover DOES show a chubby man eating grapes in front of a bath towel, which is a bit of a step down in terms of quality and taste.

"The Standing Stone" Issue Number One, October 1990. This 'zine was devoted to fantasy and horror and was published by Gordon R. Menzies. It lasted at least three issues, but this is the only one I have, because it contains a pretty childish story by yours truly. It also has a poem by ubiquitous 'zine contributor John Grey, and a piece of art by Clay Boutilier (with whom I was publishing "Lost Magazine" at the time).

Issues Zero, One, and Two of "The Potassium Revue," 1990-1991. Author of "Virgintooth" (a copy of which is also in my scrapbox), this was Mark S. Ivanhoe's text-only collection of musings and journal entries. Neat stuff, very personal...where is he now?

"Zoomers," a collection of "short sharp fiction" produced by Duncan McLean's Clocktower Press in 1990. Duncan was one of my favourite small-press writer at the time. His fiction was intensely Scottish and entirely unique to my virgin ears. It appears that he's still in the writing game.

This issue also has fiction by Stefano Benni, Jim Ferguson, Gordon Legge, James Meek, and Sandy Watson.

"Demon Colors" by Gary Lynn Morton, a hand-printed and stapled book of stories and poems, 1991?

When I edited "Lost," Gary was a constant submittor. He'd send me enormous manuscripts -- all of which I still have in my "letterbox" -- and his style was a mix of straightforward prose and bizarre hallucination. Best of all, his detailed cover letters were entertaining and revealed the processes behind each work...what inspired him, why he wrote it, how his job was going.

I really miss Gary and I wonder what he's doing now. Online searches show that he has continued to submit stories to small press 'zines, but I can't find a central repository of information.

"Rantings" by Jim McAuliffe, a chapbook of fiction and poetry, 1992. I met Jim when I started attending workshops and readings in Kitchener and Waterloo, and I still see him around from time to time...he was still organizing local readings just a few years ago, at least. Jim's style was brash and ballsy and I hope he's still writing...

A 1993 letter from Vladimir Orlev, containing photographs of people with scribbled Russian writing on the back. I've never solved this mystery, but I think he thought that "Lost Magazine" had something to do with missing persons. Strange that he'd send this all the way from Velgograd.

"Waters Boil Bloody" and "1066" by William P. Robertson, two chapbooks of poetry from 1990 and 1992. The cover of "Waters Boil Bloody" appears to feature William being attacked by a sturgeon, which he is about to kill with a large hunting knife.

Many issues of "Radio Void," a great big 'zine from Providence RI. For many small publishers this was the 'zine to aspire to: classy, fun, professional. It's where the two-headed small-press hydra of Christopher Pierson and John Grey combined to create something of genius. I don't know what eventually happened to it.

Issues two and three of "A Theater of Blood," edited by C. Darren Butler. His own work seems to have stopped around 1993, but this was an excellent horror/speculative fiction 'zine while it lasted.

Issue one of "The Stake," from III Publishing. Full-colour cover! Weird fiction! Book reviews by J. G. Eccarius, Mr. "Last Days of Christ the Vampire" himself!

Volume Four of "The Otherside," the University of Waterloo's English Society publication from 1991. Featuring stories and poems by the usual suspects (Clint Turcotte, Lindsay Stewart, Jim McAuliffe) and some stuff! I was so excited by this, I felt legitimized.

"Past Tense" by Irvine Welsh, a 1992 Clocktower Press chapbook of "four stories from a novel."

Yes, it's by THAT Irvine Welsh. It may have been the first thing he ever published, selections from the upcoming "Trainspotting." I wonder if this is worth a million bucks now?

"Reaper's Harvest" Number Two, a big (but somewhat thin) 1990 'zine of over-the-top horror. I think I got this through the usual magazine-trade method. It was edited by David F. Kramer (who appears to be very much in action) and featured a mascot named "Corpsie the Clown."

A big letter "A," number 783 of 1500. One day in 1994, the University of Waterloo students arrived on campus to find these EVERYWHERE. There were literally 1500 of them, enough for every hallway, bulletin board, classroom, and tunnel.

There were lots of theories -- and a bit of an ecological witch-hunt -- but I seem to remember that the final answer (whispered to me by a friend of the anonymous perpetrator) was that it was a celebration of a hard-won grade, though more likely a nifty bit of guerrilla art.

Lots of English Society posters featuring headless teddy bears, assassination photos, and jailed ostriches. We were a bit sick.

Mindsculpture gig posters, stuff from writer's workshops, issues of the mysterious Pauline Poisonous' "Stressed Out" 'zine, some truly horrific work from Full Force Frank (including murder-badges)...there's lots more but this post is long enough already.

What's in YOUR scrapboxes? Anything fun, strange, exciting?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What's Going On:

Here's a quick and impromptu recap of the last few weeks!

If you've ever bought a home, you know what I've been doing: planning, coordinating, waiting, worrying, and spending. I've been dealing with official-type people such as mortgage brokers, lawyers, insurance agents, and bankers. I've also been counting my pennies and trying my best to make sure my finances stay in good shape, while still keeping myself happy and amused.

Purchasing this townhouse condo has been an all-consuming process. Every day I email, telephone, and fax the people who need to coordinate their efforts to make this happen. I've suffered through a drastically "stuck" hedge fund which threatened to leave me $18,000 short of the required down payment...fortunately this appears to be resolved today. I have gone from a total fax newbie to a virtual fax repairperson in the space of a month: scanning, dialing, confirming, crossing items off the checklist, moving to the next one...

I'm AWFUL at this stuff. I hate bureaucracy and have managed to avoid it for most of my life. Now I suddenly find myself competent, able to learn the ropes and harass the foot-draggers. These skills alone are worthwhile results of this whole ordeal.

I followed a house inspector as he poked into every nook and cranny of my upcoming home, and I was thrilled to hear that it's in tip-top condition (considering it's exactly as old as I am). Meanwhile, every day I look at the real estate listings, dreading the moment when The Perfect Home becomes available, and I'm happy to say that nothing even CLOSE has appeared. Everything else is too expensive, too far away, or too crappy...often all three.

I've started packing, which is silly because I still have a month to go. People are giving me cardboard boxes. My basement is FULL of boxes, each one waiting to be filled with my life's irreplaceable trivia.

When I told my landlords that I was moving, I initially felt a bit guilty: they've been conscious of my needs and we've always had a pretty good relationship, and ten years is an awful long time. But then -- after chopping down the precious greenery under my living room window -- one of the tenants next door got permission to park his "for sale" junker car on my front lawn. And -- totally by accident -- I discovered that this building has been on the market since the week before I said I was least *I* had the decency to tell them we were through!

Meanwhile, in consideration of prospective buyers and tenants, I've been monitoring Zsa Zsa's catty smell, the result of a kidney condition which causes her to pee about eight times a day. Any odour in this apartment instantly spreads through the entire building -- and my unit has always smelled a bit like cat-spray, since before I even moved in -- but I still want to make things as painless for others as possible.

Last weekend I spent five hours with my mother, aunt, and grandmother looking for new living room furniture. I am determined to leave as much of my ramshackle and mismatched furniture behind, and five hours of comparative shopping -- and sitting in about six hundred chairs -- was more than worth it. I'm looking forward to planting some shrubs, and having my own washer/dryer, and not sharing ventilation with anybody except those who I invite. I want a coffee maker. I want my own home.

I am hopeful and happy and busy. This is probably the most significant thing I have ever done. That might seem silly to those of you with spouses and children, but for me it's a big deal...and wonderful!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"The Canterbury Tales"

I've just finished reading "The Canterbury Tales," slightly abridged and thank interested as I am to receive undiluted impressions of various time periods, there's only so much I can handle.

And it isn't just the middle English that is alienating; there's the combination of repetitive themes (cuckolded husbands) and a tendency to name-drop Biblical and Classical references in long, boring lists. I got so tired of lusty wives and silly husbands that it was actually a relief when the Jewish people got all Satanic and killed a child.

Still, though, it was a worthy and occasionally fun slog. It's interesting how easy it is to read this form on English once you're on a roll (and how impenetrable the English becomes when it dives into philosophy or morality). I'm REALLY thrilled at how downright raunchy some of the tales, if you heard a guy in a bar talking like this today you'd be shocked and somewhat put off your chicken'd never want to kiss HIS relics!

Thanks, Chaucer, for writing these stories, even if you stole most of the plots. I wanted to know how people spoke in the 14th century, and now I know: they spoke in rhyme.


Another blog post lull, but NOT for lack of material! There are lots of things I want to post about but circumstances have conspired to keep me away from the computer. I'm only writing this now because Zsa Zsa is asleep on my lap.