I am not crazy

Last night, after watching Vampire Show by Alan Ball, some of us got to talking about haircuts. Like “which candy is best?” and “[now-beloved cynical marketing campaign from childhood TV]“, I find this to invariably be a good conversation topic. Pretty much everyone has developed their own dearly-held system of hair maintenance, and they are almost always anxious to explain it in detail. Plus most people will have some self-deprecating anecdotes to share regarding ill-advised haircuts of yore.

But I wasn’t just looking to make small talk; I really have been looking for a new place to go. The lady who cuts my hair seems to have recently instituted a fuel surcharge, and that, along with the ever-more-absurd photo of George W. Bush that decorates her work area (and the increasingly uncomfortable discussions about Iraq that go with it), has got me looking for a new head maintenance technician.

It turns out, though, that I exist in an entirely different hair-cutting continuum than the rest of the world. I forget how it came up, but I somehow made it clear that I like to get a shampoo, or at least a rinse, at the end of the haircut. If I don’t, tiny bits of hair fall down my shirt and make me itch. When I finished explaining this, everyone looked at me like I’d just casually expressed my personal system for visiting prostitutes.

Apparently this post-haircut-shampoo behavior is shocking: they all place childlike faith in that stupid paper smock, and laugh at the idea of tiny, asbestos-like hair particles causing anyone sort of discomfort. Also, it seems that they get their hair washed immediately upon arriving for their appointments — and by an entirely different person than performs the cutting! Also: they make appointments!

This is all very strange to me. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I have had my hair cut several times now, and at a variety of different establishments. What Sommer, Emily, Kriston and Charles described is not in keeping with what I’ve observed at any of them. The female hair maintenance experience I can easily dismiss as irrelevant to my own. But… et tu, Kriston and Charles?

I have no choice but to reluctantly conclude that everyone is crazy but me. They’ve no doubt been unavoidably warped by the debauched, coastal salon culture that they were unlucky enough to be born into. I think that, without realizing it, I’ve been getting my hair cut in America — the real America. Places that dare to use the word “barber”, and which honor our troops and their commander in chief — the sorts of places where they keep dirty magazines on top of the coat rack, by God!

I will abandon this foolish attempt to find a new hair-cutter. I didn’t realize the chasm that yawned before me. Now I just count myself lucky. And non-itchy.

Incidentally, I hear that post-haircut shampooers are the key voting bloc for this election.

the most terrifying thing about everything is how much of it there is

Although everyone’s keeping a low profile so far, I’m encouraged by the interest expressed to me privately about the Halloween story contest. I think this’ll be fun.

So let’s press onward! As promised, I’m going to post a bunch of spooky stuff in order to provide both inspiration and a gentle kick in the ass. I think I’m going to start this process by heading back in time from the Hellboy comic that started the process.

The Hellboy universe has a lot of influences, and Mike Mignola swings between them pretty wildly. But more than anyone else, the book owes a debt to H.P. Lovecraft. Sometimes this is explicit — the BPRD Plague of Frogs storyline could be fairly called an adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth (which we’ll get to later). But the most important idea taken from Lovecraft is atmospheric in nature.

Lovecraft’s probably best known for making our pop fright-fest aesthetic include more tentacles than it used to. That’s not his real innovation, though. Before Lovecraft, horror was mostly about deviation from the normal — about the horrible things that might exist, things which put themselves at odds with virtue and far from god. Lovecraft pointed out that if there is a god — well, first of all, that should probably be pluralized — and second of all, it’s pretty presumptuous for us to assume that they care for mankind or the world we’ve built. Human society and its idea of goodness is a pleasant anomaly; one we’re born into loving and defending, but one that has little in common with the essential cold vastness of the universe. We are so, so tiny. It’s probably too much to ask for even indifference from the unknowable forces that dwarf us. Why should we be the only thing with intents and ends? We may just be the only thing that flatters itself by bothering to call those ends benevolent.

Put another way: if you’ve ever found yourself standing outside on a dark, cloudless night and paused to imagine the radio waves from our civilization and the heat from your body commingling as they radiate into space, the photons soon to be lost forever in endless cold — and better that than for them to be noticed by something else, something incomprehensible and uncompassionate — if you’ve ever thought something like that, shivered, and then hurried inside, you probably owe H.P. Lovecraft a royalty payment.

Lovecraft said that the story he liked best of those he ever wrote wasThe Colour Out Of Space. Although it’s not directly related to his more famous works within the Cthulhu mythos, it is as emblematic of his sense of cosmic dread as anything else I’ve read. Here’s the text:

H.P. Lovecraft – The Colour Out Of Space

iPhone owners may also be interested in installing Stanza, a free book reader application that has The Colour Out Of Space available through its Feedbooks catalog.

Boo!

muxtape mutates

Looks like the labels went after Muxtape faster than I’d expected. Relaunching as a direct competitor to MySpace’s music player functionality strikes me as a smart move — the fidelity offered by MySpace is pretty terrible, and bands are willing to spend a few bucks, I think, for better promotional tools. There are plenty other services out there that scratch this itch, but most haven’t got the brand cachet or design sense of Muxtape. I think this could turn into a nice little business for Justin, the site’s creator.

On a side note, reading about the licensing challenges faced by Justin should underscore the impressiveness of the Hype Machine‘s continued existence. I don’t know the details of whatever arrangement Anthony worked out, but he obviously did it a while ago, when the labels were presumably less resigned to the importance of the internet. The Muxtape saga shows that threading this particular needle is still a difficult task; it must have been nearly impossible when HypeM did it.

competitive spookiness

So! Halloween is fast approaching, and as some of you know, preparations are well underway. I’d like to try something new this year, though: let’s have a spooky story contest. Folks will submit their stories — anonymously, if they’d like — and we’ll all read and vote on them during the week leading up to Halloween (non-robotically, I hasten to add). The winner gets a $100 bar tab, or bottle of scotch, or, if you’re one of those professional writer types that needs some sort of compensatory justification for wasting time writing about ghosts, a small green portrait of Benjamin Franklin.

Let’s say that the deadline is the morning of Monday, October 27. That’s a little more than a month — plenty of time to write, I think. It’ll also give us all a few precious pre-Halloween days to read and vote on everyone else’s work.

I realize the task may sound daunting — it does to me, too, at least a little bit. But I’m inspired by the example of the Salon d’Avent, which indicates to me me that you guys are capable of it. Plus I’ve already talked to a few folks who’ve said they’ll come up with something.

Besides, it doesn’t have to be a sprawling masterpiece. I’ve read terrifying stories that are less than 300 words. You could write a sonnet to a dead girl, or a business letter to that vampire who’s been giving you trouble. Or, if you’re Wolfson, you could write in some archaic form that leaves me feeling both terrified and dumb. It just needs to be made of words, spooky in nature, and able to appeal to your fellow blog reader. All you have to do is start thinking of scary things for the next couple of weeks, then take half an hour or so to write them down. It’s easy money!

To serve as inspiration (and an occasional reminder), over the course of the next month I plan to post some spooky stories that I’m personally fond of, hopefully in a variety of media. Let’s start off with an easy one: a comic. Don’t worry, we’ll get at least somewhat more literary later on.

This is a nine-page standalone story from BPRD vol. 6: The Universal Machine (BPRD is a Hellboy spinoff, and has become an excellent title in its own right — go buy it!).

This little story probably took no more than two pages of script, but it’s one of my favorite things from the Hellboy universe. It’s wry, and short, and sad. And of course it’s spooky, too. Click the graphic below to open it up as a Flickr slideshow.

20080924_bprd_universal_machine.jpg

city veeeeeeins

Tonight! Black Cat! Word on the inter-street is that they go on around 11 — that’s right, it’s a headlining spot. I think I’ll be in the Red Room by 10 or so. See you there? Of course I will.

CORRECTION: A more recent notice from the band says they may be on as early as 10:30. Are they just saying that to make your dilatory ass show up on time? It’s hard to fathom their mysterious ways.

pulling video from tivo

Not bad, right? And that’s resized and compressed to a lossy jpeg. Take my word for it: the original looks fantastic.

It turns out that tivodecode is near-miraculous (the GUIs for it… less so). If you’ve got a recent-model Tivo you can visit its https interface, download the stored .tivo files and convert them to mpeg, easy as you please. Of course, the files are pretty big — several gigs for HD recordings — and I haven’t currently got a machine on my network beefy and idle enough to transcode up iphone-ready files on a regular basis.

Still: pretty neat. It’s nice to know that I’ve got a very high quality capture box sitting under my TV if I ever decide I badly need to put some televised video online. And it’s just fun. Do any progressive media watchdogs want to pay me to help them create automated, annotated archives of cable news? Because with this gadgetry we could totally do it on the cheap.

today in misleading science news

Hey, look! An exciting article about energy storage technology! Graphene ultracapacitors, son! As the piece notes, these new doodads offer “double the capacity of existing ultracapacitors”, and “higher power capability” than batteries!

The article then goes on to discuss how off-peak power storage is a major problem facing renewable energy sources. Which is true! But of course ultracapacitors have absolutely nothing to do with solving that problem. Graphene-based ultracaps may be twice as good as existing ultracaps (although that leaves them lagging behind the still-maybe-not-imaginary EEStor offering). But a 2x improvement still leaves ultracaps capable of storing only about a fifth as much energy as a boring ol’ chemical battery. That “higher power capability” refers to the speed with which they can deliver or take a charge, not how much energy they can hold. For some applications that’s a crucially important attribute. Just not, y’know, the ones the article talks about.

As usual a misleading press release from a university (in this case: hook ‘em ultracapacitors!) has been gleefully adapted by a credulous reporter. Somewhere along the line a claim that this may solve our energy problems and/or cure cancer will invariably be added. The poor professors and grad students being given the credit for saving our society will have their quotes — in which they honestly explain the legitimately impressive but not immediately world-changing work they’ve done! — placed in a context that they must find deeply embarrassing.

My suggestion: get your tech news from MIT Technology Review and Ars. And if something sounds amazing, go find the associated Slashdot thread and read it. You’ll usually find at least a few surprisingly informative comments from engineers with expertise relevant to the alleged breakthrough.

oof

I haven’t really followed the local sports media much over the past couple of years. The last time I regularly checked in, Wilbon was still handling quite a bit of the paper’s Redskins columns, and it was clear that he was intensely bored by it. A professional disdain for home team jingoism and fatigue from the formulaic but necessary cycle of columns that a bad local franchise necessitates combined to produce columns that were mostly about how much he hated writing them.

I figured the turnover since then would have improved things, but holy crap is today’s Mike Wise column a piece of garbage. It’s like he was having a competition with his colleagues to see how many sentence fragments he could get past their editor. Also, take a moment and contemplate the horror of the phrase “and who this team really cannot get the ball enough to”. Is it possible to write that clause any more awkwardly? Did anyone even read this before it went to the presses?

I realize that many sports reporters get bored with sports. That’s probably inevitable. But it’s still a pretty cushy job — show at least a little effort.

HMM: Charles tells me that he thinks Mike Wise ran a triathlon on the day that he had to write that column. If so, its quality is a bit more understandable. Presumably his editor was similarly indisposed (boxing match?).

music, at least some of which is not about videogames

It’s been a while, and so a backlog of musical tidbits has been gathering at the top of my spine, periodically releasing pleasant shivering waves. I’ve been enjoying listening to some things, in other words. Hey, let’s direct some of that energy at the internet!

The song from the new iPod commercial will give you cavities, but you’re not fooling anyone by pretending you don’t have it stuck in your head:

Al3x tweeted this a while ago, and I’ve been meaning to pass it along: a Beach Boys mashup that adds yet another layer of harmony — or maybe shifts everything into a different key and uses the original melody as the harmony? Whatever’s going on here, it’s clear that it’s beyond my pretending-to-know-about-music comfort zone. One thing I can say with confidence is that the process strips away the cheery, brave face covering the song’s subtle plaintiveness. It also goes THUMP THUMP THUMP, which I find less exciting. But the net effect is pleasing.

SugaMotor – Wouldn’t Nine Lives be Nice?

original link

Friday’s Penny Arcade unveiled a world of amazingly competent videogame rock. Things have come a long way in the past few years — it’s no longer enough to just channel 8-bit nostalgia through a six string (although that remains pretty fun, too). Most impressive are The Protomen, who seem to be in the business of recording Thermalsish epics about Megaman. Check out the flash video at their site. Things don’t really get going until past the second voiceover, but after that point they get better and better. There’s also this, their newest track, an unholy mix of Springsteen & Styx which actually works out quite well.

Also linked from that post: Man Factory’s concept album about Street Fighter 2 (available as a free download). It’s somewhat hit or miss, but the slow jam about Balrog is definitely worth your attention (as are the titles of all the tracks).

Talking about this stuff prompted Chris to send me a link to a project of a friend of his: remixed Megaman 2 themes. I haven’t listened to them all yet, but Chris is right when he says that the Amen break-laden Airman track is solid.

Finally, it’s been a while since I’ve engaged in any Wrens advocacy. I understand that some of you are doubters. However, I also understand that a number of you are having emotional crises about getting older. Hey, me too! I’ve been at it since I was about 16, in fact. If you’re new to this you may not have noticed just how amazing The Meadowlands is when you first listened to it. The first five songs are the strongest block of album-openers I can think of — go listen to them. I’ve been revisiting Meadowlands after spending the past year or two with Secaucus, and it’s just as good as I remembered.