bookmark_borderI am conversational

The good life, with chowder
Home of the New England Chevaliers!

Me:  The letter is supposed to end up here in Omaha.

USPS Customer Service rep:  You all are in Omaha?  It says it might be heading for Bellevue.

Me: That’s sort of a suburb of Omaha.  Is there a sorting facility there or something?

USPS CSR:  Wait–where is Omaha? It says here “NE.”

Me: That is Nebraska.  “NE” is Nebraska.

USPS CSR:  Oh!  I thought it was for “New England.”   I thought Nebraska was “NEB.”

Me: Ah!  It’s all starting to make sense.

bookmark_borderNot currently in Denmark

A picture of an elk
I said “whelk!” Stupid auto-correct!

I just saw this.

What kind of world do we live in where it takes a threat to the entire planet to get famous people to pose naked with dead fish?

When I was a kid, people were much more caring. Why, all it would take is a mugging or a minor flood and the street would be lined with A-listers, covered in haddock!

On one particularly cold December morning, my mom was distracted by a flock of whelk, and overcooked the breakfast bacon—we prefer it a bit less crisp.

Within minutes, the entire cast of a local production of “Mourning Becomes Electra” was in our front room, starkers, fondling everything from a carp to a mollusk I still haven’t identified.

THOSE were the days. Kudos to these folks for taking a stand. A naked, fishy, not-very-widely-seen stand, the point of which is completely unclear, but a stand nonetheless.

bookmark_borderFructus pie fugit

Just in case the weaker among you think I don’t understand your pain:

I was at a grocery store yesterday. The Hostess stuff was pretty much all gone, and right next to the nearly-bare shelves a dude from Little Debbie’s was PACKING their shelves with product. I mean that he was there for at least 20 minutes emptying boxes onto the shelves.

Now, there was a brief period in my checkered past in which I was a Hostess consumer, because Hostess fruit pies and warm beer put back the precious nutrients your body loses when playing 4 hours of polkas. But it’s been decades since I have cared about these products.

[Brief shout out to various Red Rooster food stores in the Edmonton area in the 80’s goes here]

Even so, I still had the momentary urge take Little Debbie’s guy down with my signature finishing move* and then dump out of one the bags of Donettes over him, for my fallen friends.

I did not do this. I bought some nice cheese.

*You ask the person to help you read some small type, and then headbutt them just below the ear, making it look like an accident. Then you check their wallet for ID, palming their cash,  call an ambulance and apologize and show great concern when they wake up . It’s called “The Plausible Deniability”

bookmark_bordernetdudian slip

Sturdy Canadian Underpants
Q: What are you looking at under there? A: A book. Q: Oh. May I please read it next?


I was just about to type F.O. into something I was writing* and my mind wandered and I typed “cuckoo” instead.

I now hereby announce and lay claim to the term “netdudian slip,” which is the opposite of a Freudian slip.




*It was in context, hilarious, and in sign language.  Absolutely not gratuitous.

bookmark_borderWhere do you FIND this stuff?

All the engine you need, baby!I read a LOT. I use an RSS reader (Right now, I use Vienna on my Mac.  It’s good.) and get somewhere over 2000 stories a day in there.  Because I follow a bunch of shopping feeds, and shopping feeds just crank out posts, about half of that number is completely irrelevant on any given day, and I just delete it without looking at it.

I used to spend a lot of time going sideways through search engines and indexes (like Yahoo! used to be).  I’d search for something that interested me, hit one of the results, and hop from links on one site to links on another.  It was great back when there were quite a few engines and indexes, because you would get different results from each.  You could get a really well-rounded view of a topic that way.  Think critically. Draw your own conclusions.  Learn.

Search and indexing on the Web keeps getting worse and worse.  Once the focus moved from cataloguing information to simply repeating the most popular results, and people started using just one source as their authoritative guide to the Web, it started to get harder and harder to go sideways.  Add to that SEO, paid search results, and results based on your past preferences, no-one wanting to look at anything more than the first 10 search results, and searching the Web pretty much sucks any more, if you actually want to learn stuff.

It is now much easier to be told what a bunch of people who didn’t know anything considered useful.

Now pretty much everything I link to I arrive at from something I read in an RSS feed. I still go sideways from there as much as I can, though.

I have about 10 feeds from conventional news sources–CBC, BBC, Reuters, stuff like that.  These feeds add a LOT of stories every day, though a lot of the same stories appear in multiple feeds.  I don’t have any commercial US news feeds.  I live in the US Midwest, where there is really good television news coverage….for about 10 minutes a day.  There are also approximately infinity hours of utterly worthless television news entertainment. Seeing this dreck is pretty much unavoidable if you own a television or go anywhere that more than 50 people pass a day.  Popular US news is like Guns ‘N’ Roses: You will hear more of it by accident than you will ever want to hear on purpose.

You can learn a lot more about a story when you find out how the outside world sees it, and that’s why I stick to RSS feeds from other countries, or raw news feeds which deliver a lot of stories without a lot of editorialising.  I don’t like to be told how to think about a story.  I like to see it from as many sides as I can.

Commercial news sources concentrate on the kind of news that sells well–they HAVE to.  That means mostly crime, mass-marketed products, stories involving well-known people or companies, politics and other big disasters.  The fact that these sources try to make space for arts, or technology, or the odd human-interest story underscores the more important fact that they have to MAKE space for that kind of story.  It’s not their stock-in-trade, it’s a purposeful inclusion of things outside their stock-in-trade.  They make their money as big-story generalists. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that, as a commercial venture. You can make money at it, but producing that kind of stuff takes the kind of money that you can only generate from a large audience and lots of advertising.

In the main, that’s not what I look for online.  Because of their need to deliver stories for a mass audience, and my oddball weirdohead, the stuff I find really interesting doesn’t filter out to these sources for at least a few days after it’s been talked about on the Web or the TwitBooks or whatever, if at all. It’s rare for me to find anything in conventional news feeds that is worth comment or repeating–maybe ten stories a week, so I read a lot of other sources.

As with conventional news, there are a lot of sites/feeds that just link to the same stories as other sites/feeds, or repost them without adding any information, insight, or at least some funny.  I follow links back to the original content and read that, and usually, that’s what I link to. Sometimes I link to the site where I first saw the content mentioned, and always try to do so if secondary site has added anything interesting

Quite often, I find things by following a link on another site, then kind of skipping sideways or searching somewhere, or I find supporting information that’s more interesting than the original topic/page I was researching.  It is sometimes difficult to figure out how to attribute anything to the site that started the trip that ultimately lead to the link, so I often haven’t in the past.

I’ve sometimes been bit of a jerk about attribution, just to save time and confusion.  I’m lots of other kinds of jerk, not OK with being that kind of jerk.

Luckily, the very hard-working person who compiles, writes and curates Brain Pickings (which is one of my RSS feeds, and is very good) has co-authored a Curator’s Code for the Internet.  It mostly boils down to either stating where you got the link, or giving a tip of the hat to whoever lead you to find the link.

I like this basic idea, and I hope it catches on.  I tried using their bookmarklet and the symbols they are trying to standardise for these two types of attribution, but those symbols seem to get messed up by WordPress’ annoying text cleaning elves when I save drafts. I hope that changes, but in the meantime I will at least stick to the idea of attribution and hat tips.

This will leave me more time to be the kind of jerks I know I can be.

bookmark_border15 Books – The Facebook thing

Book image

This is one of those things that people tag other people to do on Facebook:  “Name 15 books That Influenced You.”  I got tagged, but I’m not really a chain-lettery person, so this gives me a great excuse for a blog post.  I’m not going to take to long to think about it, and I am not going to tag anyone else.  But hey–someone asked.

So here are fifteen books, in absolutely no particular order, that had some effect on me.  They may or may not be major influences, but I need to go practice, so this gets done just as fast as I can type.  Enjoy.

1 Stand on Zanzibar and 2 The Sheep Look Up – John Brunner

I read both of these for the first time way back in my early teens, when I used to read a lot of sci-fi.  I come back and revisit them every few years, because it’s interesting to see how my response to them changes.  These were two of the four or so books Brunner wrote back when he used to really put the time and work into ’em.  SOZ was the first non-linear book I read, and it just throws you into the middle of the world he created, without all the clumsy exposition you’d normally find in sci-fi.  I like that. Also, there are some bits that are clever as hell.

The upside of both books is that they are prescient as all get out, and Brunner did a good job of thinking through the social trends he was extending into the future–whether he was right about their importance or not.

The downside of both books is that they sometimes get bogged down in the attitudes of the times Brunner was writing in, so the misogyny and racism occasionally make you want to poke him in the eye.

Brunner later went on to write lots and lots and lots of not-very-good sci fi. That’s because you make about the same money publishing a sci-fi book whether it’s good or not.  Finding that out was an influence as well.

Influential because:
Sometimes things influence you because you think they are right, and sometimes because they force you to explain to yourself why you think they are wrong.  And sometimes they force you to admit that you like them despite the wrong bits.

3 The Wump World – Bill Peet

Prescient, succinct, succinct, taut, and fantastically illustrated.  Also, for reasons I can not fully explain, I felt compelled to keep this book hidden in a drawer of a filing cabinet in my home room for all of grade 9  WITHOUT checking it out of the library.  The librarian would sometimes ask for it back, and I would return it immediately, then figure out how to take it again and put it back in the drawer.

Influential because: One of the earliest cases of my insisting on doing things for reasons I do not fully understand,  and don’t need to.  The first ” ’cause. ”

4 Shame – Salman Rushdie.

He’s a great writer, and this is his best book.  Non-wuss magic realism.  Fight me.

Influential because: Rushdie was the first intellectually aggressive writer I read who was actually good at it.

5 Trout Fishing in America and 6) Revenge of the Lawn – Richard Brautigan

I read these books and thought “Damn!  The world has no need for me if writing like this already exists.”

Influential because: Once the burden of saving the world was removed from my shoulders, I was free to concentrate on being a better parasite.

6 The Alligator Report – W P Kinsella

The closest thing to Brautigan, and the best thing Kinsella did.  I used to love his Hobbema stories, but later found I couldn’t get over the whole issue of him being a bit of an ass about them.  I liked his baseball stuff, but then he did it more than once, which made it impossible to like any of it any more.  I stopped reading Kinsella after I got The Alligator Report, in order to deny him the opportunity to screw it up for me.

Influential because: It’s the cover-band book that made me realize that you don’t have to hide your influences.

7 In the Skin of a Lion – Michael Ondaatje

Utterly transporting writing–like the words aren’t even there.  I would read this book on the bus, and be five minutes walking before I remembered how I got to where I was.  It was as if I had been dreaming, which is about the cheesiest thing that you can say about a book.

Influential because: It taught me that sometimes you can be a cliché fanboy and not really mind at all.

8 Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins

More of that magic realism crap!  Dammit!  I am SO easy!  Great fun, and Robbins can suck you into his silly, romantic bullshit to a point at which you realize that you might, in fact, be a silly, romantic bullshitter.

Influential because: Robbins repeatedly proves that something with a goofy high concept does not have to be cheesy.

9 Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard

Yeah, it’s a play.  Shut up.

I was told by an excellent high school English teacher that I should read this.  I thought it would be boring, so I didn’t read it until I was at university. Now I deeply regret those two years of my life not spent thinking about this play.  I can not put into words how perfect this thing is.  I have remained a shameless Stoppard fanboy.

Influential because: I’m a friggin’ absurdist.

10 A Slight Ache – Harold Pinter

As above.  Brilliant.  I think this is Pinter’s first perfect play.  I’m happy to be wrong.  Tell me why I am.

Influential because: If I had gone through life thinking that theatre was what I had been shown up to this point, I probably would have avoided theatre on purpose for the rest of my life.  Now I can just trap it in the jam pot and pour in some tea.

11 Uses of Lateral Thinking – Edward de Bono

I read this when I was way too young to really understand it.  I don’t know if it’s any good, and I don’t want to re-read it again to find out, because that would spoil it. But this book got me started thinking about thinking, and then learning about thinking, and that is a good thing.

Influential because: We all need a fire started in our brains.

12 Complete Works of William Shakespeare

I checked this book out of the Edmonton Public Library and kept it, overdue, for all of grade 6.  I had just moved to Edmonton, had no friends and was extremely unhappy that year.  I got the book out to be pretentious and punish the world by being super-smart and secretly interesting.  Completely accidentally, I found myself, from time to time, reading random chunks of it and not hating it.

If secondary education accomplishes nothing else, it at least strives to make literature unpalatable and threatening.  When we reached the points in my education at which well-meaning English teachers tried to destroy any hope of enjoying Shakespeare, I found myself immune.  Also, due to my sticky brain, I was able to remember some of the chunks I had read, and fake my way through a lot of exams and discussion.  Nobody thought this was cool at all.

Influential because: You should know why Shakespeare is influential.

13 Technical Foundations of Client/Server Systems – Carl L. Hall

The first technical nerd book that I ever bought, read and learned from.

Influential because: It was the last technical nerd book I ever bought, read, and learned from.

14 The Unconscious Civilization – John Ralston Saul

This is the text of the Massey lectures Saul gave in 1995.  It’s a very readable boiling down of the ideas in his larger and better known book “Voltaire’s Bastards.”  Whether you agree with everything or anything Saul says, this is another book that will force you to explain what you think, if only to yourself.

Influential because: Do not bring that weak shit into my house.

15 Blueline A 796 Record or Apica CD16 Notebook

Excellent from start to finish.  Paper is perfect for fountain pens.

Influential because: Remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Spam sez “You may qualify for a government grant

bookmark_borderNobody asked about my guitar rig.

Since I’m probably going to be writing a bunch of stuff about guitar gear, I thought I would start with what I use right now.  As long as it is, this is mostly just an overview of what’s where, what isn’t, and why.  Seriously.  I can nerd right out on this stuff.

I’ve played bass since just after the Magna Carta was signed, and currently, I’m not playing bass in any bands at all.  Weird.  I AM playing guitar in three bands right now, each of which have different styles.  This makes things interesting gear-wise. Despite certain fixations, I’m someone who likes to keep things as simple as I can onstage.  I go through a bunch of stuff when rehearsing, and then only bring stuff I’m going to use to shows.  A lot of good stuff ends up sitting in tubs at home, but I only have to hit buttons I need to live.

My band, 24 Hour Cardlock (, does trucker music.  There are two versions of the band, one in Vancouver, and one here in Omaha.  In Vancouver, I play rhythm and sing lead, because we usually have about ten people onstage (keys and horns and guitars and cigar box guitar and harmonicas and whatnot).  In Omaha, we are currently a three-piece, so I have to do a lot more guitar-picking.

In Fino*, I am really playing second guitar.  Because the band was a three-piece based around a really good guitar-player for a long time, the singer-guitarist has some very clever parts (heh).  My job is to either take some of those or write complementary parts.  There is no two-dudes-playing-the-same-thing-at-the-same-time kind of behavior.

In the Second One*, it’s kind of the same thing in reverse.  Two guitarists, but I tend to be the more out-front one.

I’m quite effect-y in the two rock bands, and have a very simple chain in Cardlock.  As a result, I use the same pedalboard for all three bands, and just don’t hit many buttons in Cardlock.

The Big Rig right now is:

Gozinta Ernie Ball volume Jr pedal —>tuner out to Boss TU-2

Gozinta old Boss CS-2 compressor, (level at 2 o’clock for slight gain, sustain at about 2 so it’s not really noticeable, attack wide open so it’s really slow)*

Gozinta Loooper dual effects loop pedal
—-> Loop 1 contains an old Boss FT-2 Dynamic Filter, which is a good-sounding, and my least breakable (I have proven this) envelope filter*
–> Loop 2 contains a crappy old DOD Octoplus pedal that is being used strictly as a gnarly boost (octave level all the way off, tone all the way up, clean level at about 3 o’clock)  Sometimes I turn some of the octave effect up, and use the box’s unbelievably poor tracking to create sounds.  That works particularly well with the envelope filter on.

Gozinta Loooper dual effects loop pedal WITH BLEND KNOB option. ( I don’t use the blend knobs.  I rewired one to be a switchable feedback loop*, but I haven’t had the nerve to use that live)
–> Loop 1 contains a Boss RV-3 Reverb/Delay pedal, mostly used as a quick slappy-verb.  Very useful for the Cardlock kinda sound, also nice for a pre-delay into long reverbs. This is also a fall-back pedal in case anything goes funny with my other ‘verb/delay stuff.  I COULD probably use this pedal for everything, but it doesn’t sound great for everything, and it requires a lot of knob-twiddling  between songs.
—> Loop 2 contains an old, old DOD Phasor 201.  Mine’s yellow. It is just fantastic for guitar.  Not swooshy pretend -flange phase, just a nice bit of movement in sounds.  Of course, it would ideal if it didn’t cut highs and lows, had an LED, and was true bypass, but that’s why I have the effects loop pedals, after all.

Gozinta Yamaha Magic Stomp
This is a really great piece. You can deep edit the crap out of patches by hooking it up to a computer.  It has a performance mode that makes sense.  The reverbs and delays are incredibly good.  The downsides are

  • Lack of MIDI interface
  • No Mac software
  • Like a lot of companies, Yamaha acts like this thing stopped existing the second they stopped making it.
  • The reverbs don’t tail off naturally when you switch them off.  BUT the delays do.  So you end up making fake ‘verbs out of multi-tap delays and saying “WTF?”

Live, I just use the MagicStomp for delays and fake reverbs. Usually just one of each.

Gozinta the amp.

I have two amps:  A Traynor YCV40WR*, which is excellent, and a Carlsboro Fatboy*, which is excellent.  I use one or the other. The Fatboy mostly does Cardlock stuff, and the Traynor does everything else.  I’ll probably do proper (read:long) write-ups on each of these, but the biggest difference is that the Fatboy is a single sealed 12″ and that works better for the clean sound I like in Cardlock.  The Traynor is more easily versatile, and has two channels, which makes it easier to get a lot of sounds while playing.  The Fatboy is a single-channel with a gain boost switch. The boosted sound is ferocious, and anything under 45 pounds should be tied down or moved out of range of it.

All the pedals are powered by a Visual Sound 1Spot, except the MagicStomp which uses its own power supply.  Everything is connected with cables I made myself.*

You might notice a few odd things about this set-up:
1) No distortion or overdrive or fuzz pedals!  Whaaaaaat? I use the amps for overdrive, and I love it.  Of course, I am going to have to get some kind of overdrive pedal at some point, or the League Of Guitarists will come and take my fingers away.  I own two fuzz pedals:  A Ronsound Stone Machine and a Roland Double Beat. They are both awesome, but I am only allowed to take them up and down the driveway on Sundays.  They are too scary for the nice people I am playing with now.

2) No wah pedal.  WHAT?  I do fakey-wah using the volume pedal into the envelope filter.  I’ve done that for quite a while, and I like it.  Honestly though, one reason that I do not have a wah on my board is that I don’t have room for it.  I am building another board that will.  I have three possible wahs:  The Double Beat, which will BEAT YOUR ASS, a Korg Mr. Multi, which I hunted for 12 years and MUST get into my rig, and an old Cry-baby which I do not love, and needs something sick done to it.

3) Yes.  I do Delay into phase into reverb.  It is great.  You should do this.  No, I do not do it in stereo. Because if I did, I would probably never leave the basement.  Just keep playing long notes until I drowned in my own drool.  WHOOOOOSSSSSHHHH!  I love it.

4) No Modulation. For a guy who makes a lot of weird noise, this seems odd.  I have a very old EH Clone Theory, and I just love how it sounds.  I don’t have room on this board for it, and even after several hundred bucks in repairs and upgrades, it is still pretty noisey.  I have sick plans for it though.  Flanging pretty much always bugs me.

Sick plans:
– I just got a Nobels ALEX.  It’s a remote effects loop (Jeez, he really likes those things!).  The idea is to use this in the effects loop of the amp, in order to switch a couple of rack units in and out.  It works just dandy, so all that remains is to simplify things so that it travels and sets up quickly.  I’ll still be one of those wanky guitar players with a pedalboard AND a rack, but at least I’ll be a tidy one.

– Longer term I should be looking at some kinda switching system, like the GCX or the Rocktron Patchmate or something*.  But those cost money I don’t have right now.  And I’d go all nuts.  So later.

– I might perhaps, maybe, just use a couple of ALEX boxes–or some more easily accessible equivalent–to do things like switch the Clone Theory into the amp effects loop somewhere.  Used BEFORE a reverb, the noise actually DOES NEAT THINGS.  Or at least, it disappears into the wash.

– I must–I simply MUST–get this Mr. Multi into the working rig.

– Disto pedal.  I dunno which though.  So far, I have hated a few, thought many were OK, and loved a few.  Right now, the main contenders are: Fulltone Fulldrive, Fulltone OCD, Carl Martin Drive n’ Boost, Vox Satcherator (SRSLY. The only Satriani-related product I have not loathed or laughed at), Vox 810 overdrive, modded Boss Blues Driver.  But the list keeps growing*. And I keep just using the amps, because I like how that sounds.

TC Nova Delay.  Holy crap!  I played with one of these when I was last in Vancouver, and it’s like they designed a pedal specifically for me.  Brilliant.

Anyway, there it is. Thrilling, is it not?

I welcome your comments. If you have read this far, you deserve an opinion. Also, you are a nerd.

*More on this at a later date

Spam sez “Mr. cablehead, get super prices. in with