Monthly Archives: April 2006

one giant leap for mankind

a video for dayvan cowboy has been released. it’s the only video Boards of Canada have ever released, and it’s a precursor to their forthcoming EP trans canada highway.
as you may have read here previously, i am a huge fan of Boards of Canada, probably to the point of having a blind spot the size of a (hexagon) sun regarding aspects of their work that don’t, well, work. you have been warned.

dayvan cowboy is the best track on their latest album. at work this week, i went so far as to opine that it was their best song ever (ask elaine – i never use superlatives ;-)). watching the video just made me more foamy around the lips. wow.

a friend forwarded it to me, and while watching it, he and i were chatting over IM. he said, “it looks like they sound.” that seemed a pretty apt description, yet prior to seeing the video, i would have been hard-pressed to visualize a representation of the BoC sound. now i will be hard-pressed to imagine anything else, or to get the video out of my head.

the song is roughly five minutes long, with a long, slow intro that changes significantly at the 2m06s mark. the second part of the song is linked stylistically with the first, yet different; guitars combine with violins, and then the drums and symbols come crashing in at 3m08s, punctuated all the while by a beautiful synth melody floating in and around the other layers of sound. for me, it evokes an odd combination of happiness and melancholy.

the video follows a similar structure, with two distinct stories, if you will, linked and yet not linked. the first 2m08s of the video are one of the most frightening and awe-inspiring things i have ever seen. they used real footage of Joseph Kittinger performing the highest altitude parachute jump ever recorded.

joseph kittinger high-altitude jump
on august 16, 1960, kittinger used a special balloon to climb to an altitude of 102,800 feet (19.4 miles) and then proceeded to jump out of the gondola wearing 60lbs of gear and a parachute. he was in freefall for 4.5 minutes (85,000 feet), and reached a maximum speed of 614 mph, nearly breaking the speed of sound without an aircraft. this was the third time he had done such jumps, previously bailing out at 76,000 and 74,700 feet on two jumps spaced three weeks apart. he nearly died on the first jump; he lost consciousness after a parachute malfunction caused him to wind up in a 120rpm flat spin (his emergency reserve chute saved his life). i guess he just filed that one under “sh*t happens” and decided to get back on the horse.

he had already been awarded the distinguished flying cross for his initial high-altitude balloon flights. after three heroic and unbelievable freefalls from space, one might imagine Joe would just hang it up and retire to a nice calm life in Florida watching take-offs from Cape Canaveral. nah. he was only 32, after all; he had a whole life ahead of him.
after surviving being the first man in space without the benefit of a spaceship, kittinger went on to serve three tours of duty in vietnam, flying 483 combat missions. he was shot down and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in the hanoi hilton, and was subsequently released. he retired from the air force in 1978, and spent the next five years setting balloon navigation records left and right. he still tours around the country flying a biplane, taking kids on their first flights.

we need more heroes like joseph kittinger, people who demonstrate courage beyond reason and show that humans are capable of a great deal more than what we limit ourselves to. it also wouldn’t be too bad to have more musicians like Boards of Canada who show us transcendence in other ways. ;-)

a place so foreign

a place so foreign and eight more

cory doctorow is one of my heroes. he’s basically everything to which a nerdy, liberal-minded, dot-com-era, wanna-be writer could aspire: blog trailblazer, digital freedom fighter, non-fiction author, and multiple award-winning sci-fi writer extraordinaire. as if his accomplishments weren’t enough, he also seems to be a really nice guy.

i’m not gay, and i already have a fiancee, but cory, will you marry me?

but seriously folks. cory doctorow is a really, really good writer. don’t take it from me. take it from bruce sterling. or the people who come up with hugo nominations. or the people who gave him the john w. campbell award. they all know a lot more about what qualifies as good writing than i probably ever will.

i’m foaming at the mouth, and i’ve only read 2.5 of his 6 books (two books are waiting patiently on the shelf, along with many other neglected volumes). a place so foreign and eight more is my latest doctorow conquest, and it was immensely satisfying.

the thing i like most about cory doctorow’s writing is that it defies simple description. most people dismiss science fiction without a second thought; space-opera for the silicon-obsessed, they say; literary fluff; romance novels for geeks. these people have not read anything worth reading. among other writers (wolfe, herbert, banks, bear, asimov, to name a few), they have not read cory doctorow.

doctorow has created his own approach to science fiction, similiar in spirit to neal stephenson, but thankfully much shorter. he twists the contemporary with the fantastic, blends present and future, and creates a reality all his own, often one that pokes fun at ours. social commentary runs through most of his writing, but he never clubs you over the head with it. and did i forget to mention he’s funny? lol.

a place so foreign and eight more contains nine short stories, as the title implies, and i’d say there’s only one or two slight misses in the bunch. my favorites were: craphound; to market, to market – the rebranding of billy bailey; the super man and the bugout; and 0wnz0red. in each story, he did something i’d never seen or thought of. if there’s one fault i might find, it’s a lack of significant stylistic variation from story to story; these stories all feel like he wrote them, which is fine in the end (if you like how he writes).

he’s no gene wolfe. he may not even be a neal stephenson. and that’s good. what he does, i have not seen anyone else do. he’s creating his own category, a la Billy Bailey, and from what i can tell, he’s got the big brands all lined up…the best part of it is, he’s not doing it for them. he’s doing it for us.

the worst packing job ever

poorly packed amazon box
generally, i think amazon is the best thing since sliced bread. however, they blew it this time. the photo above shows what has to be the most egregious waste of packing (not to mention shipping) resources i have ever seen. that entire box, measuring 26″ L X 20″ W X 9″ H was used to ship one baking sheet.

i’m trying to figure out how this could have happened, and i’m a bit puzzled. stupidity is an obvious answer, but i occasionally like to give people credit. anyone got any ideas?

what’s next?

What’s next?, you ask?

the entire course of human history is about to change. apparently, the end of the world is nigh (again). between earthquakes, tsunamis, and terrorists, it’s all going to Hell in a handbasket. God is the only one who can save us.

my agnosticism aside, could someone come up with better marketing materials for these folks? i mean, seriously. if you look at the brochure i got in the mail yesterday, the front cover insert image says “Image courtesy of the HQ, USACE, Office of History.” that just screams credibility to me.

here are a few thoughts:

  • hire a Web designer who knows that red is an accent color, and make those nice images clickable!
  • get a writer who can speak clearly and plainly, without the need for all the fire and brimstone stuff. things like “The Origin of Evil”, “Armageddon,” and “The Coming of the Messiah” are so 15th century.
  • don’t bother with fancy DVDs full of “Bible references and exciting special effects.” Hollywood has already done it better than you ever can, even with God on your side.
  • find real people to offer testimonials, as opposed to quoting entire Western states.
  • try for more more positive messages and visual imagery; puppies are always good. people get tired of worrying about death and destruction and stuff; we get that from our President all the time.

heyyyyy…wait a second! Dubya, was it you who sent that?

where did that job go?

i lost my job last week. or maybe the week before, i don’t know.

this is the third job i’ve lost in four years. clearly, there is a gap between the value my employers perceive in me, and that which i perceive in myself. or not. i’m just not sure. as an “information worker” in the new millennium, it’s hard to tell. it seems that you can be an intelligent, valued, and productive member of a company, and yet still lose your job.
something has changed since the days of employment for life, i’d say. it seems those days are a quaint anachronism, at this point – a pleasant, yet unrealizable, memory of the past.

i don’t know what my future holds. in the next year or so, probably more consulting work. i don’t know any more if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. consultants are criticized for wasting people’s time and money, yet grudgingly accepted as providing a valuable service. which is it, ultimately, that sticks in people’s minds? the waste or the value?
i tell people that i lost my job, and from my fellow knowledge workers in the bay area , i get knowing support. from others, there is a sadness i sense, bordering on pity. “lost another job, huh? well, i keep hearing that things are tough in that Internet business…hmmmm. good luck!!”

good luck, indeed. anyone got a crystal ball? i’ve got a future with a beautiful wife, kids, and mortgage to support. should i stay in this crazy business, or get out? it’s hard to know what to do.



imagine dostoevsky huddled with the brothers quay in a dark, back-alley moscow bar. angelo badalamenti plays on the jukebox as they discuss the matrix and blade, and the never-ending human fascination with tales of good vs. evil, with immortality and the mystical. they decide to make a movie to explore these themes, something wholly russian, yet not constrained to being wholly original. their conversation is gradually drowned in stolichnaya, and their temporary fascination in a movie wanes as they drift off into other philosophical territories. as they move on, so do the two huddled forms at the table next to them, heading out the door and to their desks… Timur Bekmambetov and Laeta Kalogridis won’t let those ideas go to waste.

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