Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lianne La Havas

I was listening to 4 star and up in iTunes (~4200 tracks) and this song came up. What a beautiful song, I made it 5 stars in my iTunes - 5 star count is now 126.

I tweeted, which posted through to Facebook. Got 0 attention either place. But I have more to say about the song and artist, so I will say it here.

That tasty guitar lick has only 5 chords. For those of you keeping score, they are Cmaj7 C6 G Gmaj7 C#7. I recorded the lick. Unusual to be playing on only the bottom 3 strings.

The song gobsmacked me. I must have listened to it 20 times. I kind of obsessed on this artist last week. Lots of good videos. Her guitar playing is distinctive and lyrical. Her band is excellent, and the live performances have great engineering, as seems to be the norm now.

I watched one interview of her where she talked about this song. She is from London. The song is about the heritage she got from her parents. Her mother is Jamaican, "Green & Gold" are the colors of the Jamaican flag. Her father is Greek, "ancient stone" is a reference to the classical Greek ruins.

I assumed that like most songs this was a love song. These lines seemed inappropriate in that context:

Those eyes you gave to me
that let me see
where I come from.
But the "you" in the first line is her parents. So a touching tribute. It really is a personal song, it would seem odd to cover it, but I'm sure that won't stop people

England, and in particular London, has lately given us some great female singers: this woman, Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Corinne Bailey Rae, Adele, Rainy Milo. The US doesn't seem to producing anyone comparable. My friend Michael Boggs likes Pink, I have listened to some of her stuff, nothing struck me. The new Beyoncé album has gotten rave reviews, I sampled a few tracks and was not getting much. I will probably get the album and see if it will burn in.

We do have Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and Janelle Monáe, and all the great Brooklyn bands. But it still seems like we are mostly missing the nuevo-Motown singers, who somehow seem to have all wound up in London.

Monday, May 09, 2016

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Yes, I know, I should have been reading something worthwhile and economical, but, I don't know, I liked the title of this book.

"The Traitor Baru Cormorant" is the 1st novel of Seth Dickinson. I have tagged it as fantasy, although it has no fantastical elements (magic, dragons, etc) other then being set in an alternate earth or other world. It is well written, with several new words to look up, and well paced. The plot twists are anxiety-producing, which I would say is a good thing. As seems to be becoming increasingly popular, gender roles are fluid compared to what you would expect in your standard medieval setting.

The book left me feeling uncomfortable. It kind of gives you 2 world models to choose from, both of which suck. You can have your traditional medieval or Polynesian Iron Age culture, perhaps with odd breeding models. Or you can have an empire that apparently has some modernish science, medicine, accounting - and a superior military - but with brutal repression of all but the atomic family breeding model with heterosexuals; a comprehensive eugenics program; and mind control and reprogramming techniques. So, feudal primitivism, or Nazi efficiency? Hard choice.

The novel's heroine juggles this choice, and seems ultimately to choose the path that maximizes her personal power. It looks like we will learn what she does with that power in the next novel, currently being written.

I guess I should recommend this book, it seems to be fairly plugged into the current zeitgeist. It was a diverting read. But still, I can't describe it as edgy, or uplifting. Being made to feel uncomfortable by a book can be a good thing, but I guess my overall optimistic outlook on things wants there to be good answers to problems, and this book doesn't seem to offer any.

Ahhh, the exocortex delivers again! I think the empire of this book reminded me of S.M. Stirling's "The Domination", which I blogged here, in December 2004. That series involves ultra-Nazi protagonists, and after I was done with it, I kind of wished I hadn't read it - bad memes. So I think I got a little of that slimy, nasty feeling here - not even vaguely as bad as the Stirling though.

Ha ha, I wonder, as I become increasingly demented, if going back and rereading this blog will help me remember myself? I guess we'll see ...

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Bad Writing

I recently read "Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2015". This is a collection of the free stories they published at their website. It is a free download, yay!

I blogged on the 2014 version of this here. I blogged about the 150 story 5 year release they did here and here.

All those posts listed stories that stood out, that I really liked. This latest volume, the overall quality was very good, but nothing jumped out at me.

Coming at this from the other end of the quality spectrum, I was halfway through the stories when I had the thought, "Man, no bad stories so far". But, there wound up being two stories that were doing OK, but then did something that I think definitely qualifies as "bad writing": they ended the story with a 1 sentence, "gotcha" paragraph. That just seems totally ... amateurish, cheap? ... to me. The offending stories were "Tear Tracks", by Makla Older, and "Schrödinger's Gun", by Ray Wood. The second one was a really interesting quantum physics story, so the ending was definitely and disappointingly unfortunate.

I have been paying more attention to figuring out what triggers my "this is bad writing" reflex, mostly because of a book review I wrote where I stated the author was a bad writer - although she did get better as the book wore on. I guess it is my engineer's mindset - don't just complain about something, figure out what is wrong, and fix it. We'll see how that goes. I am dragging my feet on reading that author's 2nd book and, if the "bad writing" flag gets tripped, figuring out why.

So, again, to be snarky, the collection was definitely worth the price. It is nice of Tor to do these, and I'm sure a good way to give their authors some more exposure.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Three-Body Problem Dark Forest

Earlier in this month I read "The Three Body Problem" and "The Dark Forest", by Cixin Liu. Liu is China's leading sci-fi author. The 3rd (final?) book "Death's End" will be out in September. I have it on pre-order.

The best part of these books is the physics - very creative and interesting. The chaotic orbit of a planet in a trinary stellar system (the title of the 1st book) is very well explained. The speculative post-standard model physics is very good stuff.

The books also adopt, as per the title of the 2nd book, the view of interstellar civilization that I first remember from Greg Bear in "The Forge of God". They are sweeping in scope, both in space and time.

The plotting was also pretty good. After at times lulling you to a point of approaching boredom, wham, action! Kind of like "Breaking Bad".

The odd part was some of the characterization. You are reminded that China is still a Communist country. Who else has "political officers" on their vessels as main characters? The 1st book opens in the 1960s with the Cultural Revolution, and, in some ways, it seems the books keep that "revolutionary zeal" feel. And that feel is the opposite of "noirish cool". Even the chain-smoking cynical detective character still has the approval of the powers-that-be, i.e., the party officials.

Here's some samples of uncoolness and other weirdness from the 2nd book:

"Mr. Shi, we haven't been working together long, but I really respect you."

A humble respect so rarely seen among modern people seemed to be in his blood, able to manifest at any time.

there was the principle of fairness in battle opportunity. ... a fair number of ships could not have been considered to have taken part, leaving them nothing in the history books but eternal regret.

They looked so noble and perfect, from the captain to the lieutenants, and their eyes shone with a godlike wisdom.

Earth now had the calm confidence to face any sort of enemy.

Yet Zhang Beihai's calm eyes were a strong force field that upheld the stability of the formation and helped them maintain their military poise. Children cast aside into the endless night needed a father most of all ...

his eyes full of a fatherly concern that gave her an undreamed-of sense of comfort ...

So, exposure to a different culture is a good thing I guess. Even if some of the attitudes seem, what, phony or insincere? Or juvenile? Quaint? Or just definitely Not Cool. Or maybe it's a translation problem, but I don't think so.

Still, the books are well worth the read, and I'm looking forward to the 3rd one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Time For Music Again

How the time does fly. New music for the 1st 3 months of this year.
  • David Bowie, "Blackstar". Amazing that Bowie made this 7 track album knowing he was dying. It is a fitting memorial. The 2 videos from the album are both disturbing and haunting. 4 stars.

  • Bloc Party, "Hymns". A very nice album from this British group. Catchy tunes, good dancers. Here's "Into The Earth". 4 stars.

  • Ra Ra Riot, "Need Your Light". Not as good as their prior album, but some good tunes. I will give it 4 stars out of respect for their earlier effort and because I suspect it will grow on me.
  • Lake Street Dive, "Side Pony". Their 2nd album. Kind of like the Ra Ra Riot. No songs jumped out at me. Plus, the engineering I thought was a little suspect. It seemed like it needed more, something closer to the Phil Spector wall of sound. 4 stars.
  • Bonnie Raitt, "Dig In Deep". I read somewhere how this was her 1st album of new material in several years. It does not seem like that long. Again, how the time does fly. This is a great album, man can that woman play slide guitar. I am working up "Shakin' Shakin' Shakes" for the jams. 4 stars.

  • Lucius, "Good Grief Deluxe". Their 2nd album. About the same quality as their 1st, I think. 4 stars. Here's "My Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve".

  • Vandaveer, "The Wild Mercury". I read a review of a recent local concert by this group, out of Louisville. The guy who writes the material and sings lead is from Lexington. He has a female harmony singer. Genre-wise, iTunes made it "Folk" - it's kind of in that folk-country-alternative blend like, say, Lonesome Bellow. Very listenable. 3 stars - mostly because everything else has been 4! I have to pretend I still have some powers of discrimination!
I am hopefully back to playing at jams for a while. I played at the Groove Jam in Richmond, and the Sunday jam at Shamrock's. Despite not practicing much, I think I acquitted myself fairly well. I'm also working up a couple o new songs.

Monday night I went to open mic at Willie's Locally Known. This has relocated from the north side to Southland Dr, in the (cursed) site by the railroad tracks that used to be Trump's (and then the execrable ShowMe's). They have done a great job with it. Rustic wood look. The end by the stage has raised seating along the walls for an amphitheater effect. I loved their bourbon bar as well. Q: Which bourbons do you carry? A: All of them.

The open mic is run by Coralee of popular local band Coralee and the Townies, who I have never seen. So she did 1 song on vocals and acoustic guitar, then started calling people up to do 2 songs. It was not so good for a while. Late-in-life guitarists without much touch, out-of-tune guitars, etc. Amateur night.

Then this 20 YO kid got up and played originals on ukulele and vocals. Totally odd chords, very distinctive voice, completely fresh and original. I talked to him afterwards, need to get his name. I was hesitant to do it, so as not to taint his originality, but I suggested he listen to Tune-Yards - another alternative ukulele player. I'd buy his album right now, but what tremendous potential.

Next up a 15 YO kid playing Preston Reed / Kaki King open-tuned acoustic guitar type stuff. Very good.

Then a 16 YO kid playing a mandolin. First a very jazzy instrumental, very nice, then singing a country song with a great, expressive voice.

So it wound up being a worthwhile evening of live music.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Twelve Tomorrows

I read the 4th edition of "Twelve Tomorrows", published by MIT's Technology Review magazine. As in past years, it is a very good collection.

The Stross story, "Life's a Game", explores the end(game) of gamification as drolly as you would expect. "All the Childhood You Can Afford" by Daniel Suarez paints a picture of a very different and unique type of future dystopia. The John Kessel story "Consolation" features a global warming dystopia that is quite possible - and, while there is some degree of schadenfreude in southerners and particularly Texans as illegal aliens in a north that is now part of Canada, one hopes nonetheless that we don't go there. "The Design Doyenne Defeats the Dullness" by Paula Antonelli finally gives us a post-scarcity future, with art of course reigning, and presiding over a ritual suicide.

I was disappointed but not particularly surprised that there were quite a few more dystopias than utopias. The only story not mainly dystopian was the Antonelli.

But the last story kind of threw me. It was titled "The Ancient Engineer", by Bruce Sterling, who is a great author and futurist, and who edited this collection. The story is about a 2nd century Roman engineer??? So, I'm not sure what he was thinking in giving us "11 Tomorrows & 1 Yesterday".

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Grandson, Age 14-20 Months

My 1st grandson, Sam, was born July 2014 in Zagreb Croatia. He and his parents came back to Louisville in July 2015. His parents went back to teaching elementary school in JCPS. For 6 weeks starting in September, I babysat Sam 1 day/week. It was fun, but a long day, what with driving to Louisville and back.

During that period, he seemed to be really into pushing buttons to make things happen. He was particularly fascinated by the water fountain at the library. It had large buttons on 3 sides, push any 1, out comes the water! What fun! I couldn't help thinking, well, I guess we know that the main survival skill for his generation is!

He wasn't much into building, but, anytime I made a tower of russian doll blocks, he would pause with a gleam in his eye before going all-out Godzilla on it. His mother says he's now starting to get into building things.

The 3rd week of March I got to spend 5 days with him and his mom in Florida. His playing skills were greatly improved. He totally got that you put the Fisher Price people into the cars, chairs, merry-go-rounds, etc.

One day we went to the beach. The Gulf was calm as usual, 6-12 inch waves. He loved it. There was a girl maybe 4 YO and her brother maybe 6 YO who were playing near him. The boy would kick at the waves coming in, and Sam decided that that was the ticket. He got full on belligerent with the waves. He would bend over swish his hands back and forth in the water - clearly saying, "take that, ocean". Another wave would come in and hit him and he would squeal with excitement.

It was really interesting, there was no fear, just total excitement. I figured he maybe got a double dose of adrenaline junkie genes, from his maternal grandmother and his dad both. But my daughter-in-law, the mother of my 5 YO granddaughter Lucy, said that Lucy was similarly fearless up until about 2-1/2 YO.

Last week one of my daughter's oldest friends was in from Philadelphia to help her mom move, and she brought her 16 month old son with her. We had them over for salmon on the grill. It was great seeing him and Sam play together, and it was notable how he seemed to mimic Sam's behavior heavily.

Sam shows the same behavior: if he sees a bigger boy doing something, he's going to try it. It made me wonder: is this all that defines alpha males? The algorithm, "copy the behavior of the biggest boy around", makes a lot of sense. The biggest boy is likely the oldest and most experienced. Copying his behavior seems like one of those "good enough" adaptions that evolution comes up with.

I had thought that a lot more went into defining what makes an alpha male. But, maybe it is just that they are the biggest?