Hold on, Let Me Get My Tinfoil Hat

Sgt. Osiris shares his wisdom.As has been related in several places, I’m a skeptic. I think this is noteworthy considering the era and cultural context I grew up in: San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s. My mother has this wonderful hippie expression for people who drift out of touch with rationality: “flying asshole crackpots.”

It wasn’t her expression. She actually learned it from this wonderfully funny band roadie by the name of Adrianne, who drove the tour bus for the Anonymous Artists of America.

There was the time my mother, a single mother in early 1970 (So no, I don’t blame her for any of this!), had to work in New York during the summer months so, she left me in the care of her close friends in this band, who, at the time, where living with many others in a commune in Colorado.  During this time, I caught Blue Disease (RMSF) from dog ticks. I grew deathly ill and the adults on the commune, all in their early to late twenties, had their reasons for not taking me to a hospital.

I think mostly it was poverty, rejection of Western, capitalist society and fear of the Man–several of them were Weathermen. So they kept me in a teepee, called in a friend of theirs, a young, Native American man to keep me hydrated, to keep me warm and cool and to chant over me and they gave my mother a phone call.

My mother had a nickname back then, “Glyn Straight.” This was because she always had her shit together and could be counted on take care of the serious business. She was a hippie but she knew how to pass in conventional, establishment culture. She was both a bank teller for Wells Fargo and belly dancer. I still wonder at how she pulled that off.

Anyway, getting the phone call, she immediately flew to Colorado, picked me up, took me down to the town doctor’s office and got me shot full of antibiotics, I was sick they wouldn’t let me on the plane back to San Francisco but I cured within days.

So what prompted this? Well basically this SMS chinwag between Neil DeGrasse Tyson and hiphop artist, BOB. Obviously I’m Neil’s side, Neil being an actual astronomer and BOB, being a pop star. Also I relate all this to explain why I think the way I do. As a little post-hippie boy, I wasn’t really predisposed towards being a skeptic but, my personal history being what it was, I think it filtered in over the years so that by the time I was in high school, I was militantly skeptical and atheist.

So yeah, BOB just went full tinfoil hat.

“Now Fatigue”

This links to a larger animated image from a Japanese TV series, Android Kikaider January second is apparently “National Science Fiction Day” and to mark that moment, let me share a little personal history with you. My mother, now 73, was the one who first exposed me to science fiction through her large paperback book collection and television habits in the late 1960s. Granted it was the 1960s and it was San Francisco so, how could I not be exposed to science fiction? But she was my most personal example of it.

But a love for science fiction can do something to a person, something I’ve decided to call “now fatigue.” Now fatigue is the opposite of Toffler’s future shock. The future shocked are people anxious over too much change too soon, the now fatigued are people who are disappointed that social and technical progress isn’t happening fast enough. Every time someone says, “We can put people on the Moon but we still can’t cure cancer,” that’s now fatigue. Whenever someone says, “It’s 2016, where’s my flying car?” that’s now fatigue.

I have experienced decades worth of now fatigue.

I could go on and on. Yes, there are advances, here and there but, progress just seems so agonizingly, teeth pullingly, slow! What I have is now fatigue. As a child of the utopian world of Star Trek, I’ll continue to read hard SF and love it, as an ex-physics major I will continue to read breathless reviews of technical advances in scientific media but, I don’t expect radical changes in the next thirty (forty if I’m lucky.) years that I have left to me. There will be no hard takeoff like Kurzweil promises.

Believe me, I would love to be proved wrong on this.

Music and the Curse of Memory

You know what’s great about streaming music sites on the Web? You get a detailed, real-time play list as the music is playing. This means if a tune comes on that you like, you can just glance at the playlist and know the track title, the compilation it’s on, who the publisher is, when it came out, who the artists were and so on. Good for getting a copy of the track for your own collection.

Now here’s the horror of listening to radio: growing up in Seattle and listening to KCMU in the 1980s and early 1990s, I’d hear a track once or twice, like it and then forget to pay attention to the DJ reading back the playlist during a break 20 minutes after a long set of music. As it was, I still have a lot nameless tunes rattling around in my head that I can’t tie to any bands, albums or whatever. And the problem is I can’t extract the tunes from my skull to hunt them down on the Web.

Once I was very lucky to stumble across one of these tunes more than a full decade later. My friend played Brian Eno on his cassette deck and I finally had a title to go with the music I’d heard waaaaaay back in 1981: “Mea Culpa.” I was very happy that day! There are still at least three others to get out of my head.

Second Night of Madness

Started this day at 1PM with a veggie burrito and then continued into four blocks of shorts and a thought provoking talk by Charles Stross, yes, that Charles Stross. But let’s start with the shorts:

“666 sq. ft.”
Directed by Ray Zablocki. To deal with unruly tenants, a landlord makes a deal with infernal powers. Really short but effective.
“The 1000 Colors”
Directed by Filip Biedron. Out of inspiration and a desperate artist takes drugs. Nyarlathotep shows up and bellows at the artist, high jinks ensue. I really like the voice talent and vocal processing they got for Nyarlathotep.
“August Heat”
Directed by Matthew J Thompson. This was based on a WF Harvey short but the story seems to work better in print. In this adaptation there are some mysterious goings on but tension never really builds.
Directed by Bhargav Saikia. Based on a Henry James story it took me a while to guess what was going on here and even now I’m not entirely sure. A woman’s creepy, dead ex-lover possesses the male of two childern the woman is caretaker for? Still not sure.
“Blind Date”
Directed by Rob Rotondo. A young woman blind from birth casts spells from a forbidden book to restore her site–but of course there is a terrible price. How she learned the spells in this book, which is not braille embossed or a book on tape, is a mystery.
“The Call”
Directed by Alban Ravassard. Well acted and skillfully executed but it’s a another creepy mermaid story and I’m getting tired of those.
“The Call of Farqunglu”
Directed by Kris Theorin. Lego, Lovecraft and Laughter. This is a good one!
“The Case of Evil”
Directed by Neal Hallford. A fading musician tries to buy back the diabolic guitar that made him a blues legend but the witch who possesses it is not selling. I liked this one maybe!
“The Case of Patient Paul Edward Kelly”
Directed by Roberto Spinelli. A therapist uses regression therapy to get a patient to confront a nameless terror. Filmed in 2015, the look and feel of this movie is very 70s retro.
Directed by Casey Malone. A “researcher” technobabbles his way to controlling time–confusion,  disappearance and disappointment result. Sometimes people blend the wrong things when attempting to blend Lovecraft tropes and science fiction.
“The Copy Writer”
Directed by Liam Banks. Based on “Rats in the Walls” without the giant catacombs as a payoff. Again not very memorable.
“The Craft”
Directed by Han Waldman. A socialite is married to an eccentric and infamous artist. Inspiration by Lovecraft themes, but not especially Lovecraftian nor memorable.
“From Beyond”
Directed by Darren Way. Stop motion animation Crawford Tillinghast’s bizarre machine. Beautiful but personally I like Michael Granberry’s adaptation better.
“The Statement”
Directed by Marc Shahboz. There were several flicks based on “The Statement of Randolph Carter” I think I liked this one the best as it had the fewest elaborations.
“The Terrible Old Man”
Directed by Ryan Smith. This is a Lovecraft story that rarely gets adapted so I give them points for that. The acting was passable and the choices for incidental music were actually pretty good–aside from the generic and forgettable heavy metal.
“The Mill at Calder’s End”
Directed by Kevin McTurk. Told with incredibly lifelike puppets and more Gothic than strictly Lovecraftian, it’s about the declining Grimshaw family and their demonic pact.
“The Statement of Randolph Carter”
Directed by Dylan Howie. The one is perhaps more historically accurate rendition of the Lovecraft story but not as good, I think, as “The Statement.”
“Escape from Midwich Valley”
Directed by Pierre-Henri Debies. Essentially a music video based very loosely on The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Not especially memorable.
“The Stomach”
Directed by Ben Steiner. A story about mobsters and a medium with a weird way of channeling the dead. Well acted, well shot and fun to watch!
“Fat Rabbit”
Directed by Adam Petke. A frontier couple gives birth to monstrosities in desturbing ways. Funny, gross and tension filled.
“Out of the Basement”
Directed by Benjamin Dewhurst. A brother dies and leaves mysterious and disturbing recording of demonic summoning, with interesting ideas about how possession works. Well acted, well shot and fun to watch!
“Lead Paint”
Directed by Gilbert Cuevas. An examination of jealousy and men’s fear of and control over women’s sexuality–by way of Lovecraft. Funny!
“The Music of Erich Zann”
Directed by Edward Kelly. Sorry, but hand carved electric guitars don’t redeem this one. From the music video school of telling a story with gratuitous nudity that is not tied to the story in any way.
“Fuck Buddies”
Directed by Nate Wilson. It’s starts off as friends with benefits but then a nonexistent child that wants to be born starts forcing things. Funny and gross. Not especially Lovecrafian but still fun to watch.
Directed by Izzy Lee. Detective on a murder investigation finds the trail leads to the fishing town of Innsmouth. Sexy bathtub scene happens, not much in the way of fish men or Deep Ones and not especially memorable either.
Directed by Mike Bliss. Hikers investigate standing stones in the Welsh countryside and awaken an ancient evil. Pretty good but not especially memorable enough to stand out.
“The Trap”
Directed by Dick Grunert. Sorry, but hand carved electric guitars don’t redeem this one. From the music video school of telling a story with gratuitous nudity that is not tied to the story in any way.

[Addition to the draft that I made roughly two weeks after the festival.] Actually I couldn’t finish doing capsule reviews for all the films I saw, mostly because it’s been nearly two weeks and I’m beginning to forget details. However I will say this, if you have a chance to see, Black Mountain Side, see it!

The other thing I wanted to talk about was a lecture at the con that I listened to by Charles Stross. But that’s so detailed, I think it deserves an entry of it’s own.

The First Night of Madness

hplffSo I have awoken from the first night at the 20th Annual HP Lovecraft Film Festival, something that I have been attending since 2003 (I think?). So far I’m having a excellent time.

Road down from Jet City with a friend and his son in a Prius, dined on some belt sushi outside of Tacoma. Had our annual laugh-because-we-cannot-cry at the “Uncle Sam Billboard” outside Chehalis. Pulled into Portland, Oregon with hours to spare. Got our rooms at The Banfield just off I-84 and Sandy Boulevard. Barely two blocks from the historic Hollywood Theater where the festival has always been held.

The Festival, as always, has much more material than can be viewed or participated in three days. In addition to films, there are author readings, writer and scholar panels, merch and tchotchkes and in recent years the addition of games and related game materials.* All of this is tied into Lovecraft subculture.

Anyway because of this packed set of events, I always optimize my schedule to watch all the shorts blocks. This is because the feature length films are often easier to get hold of later by disk or download. But enough details. Let’s talk about what I saw and what I thought about it.

I was in the main theater on the ground floor of the Hollywood. This was where shorts block one would eventually be shown, after some opening events and a rescreening of an excellent feature length which I can’t recommend highly enough.

The opening events included some live action recreation of the movie going experience of the twenties and early thirties including masters of ceremony, ushers and cigarette vendors. Back in ancient days, going to the movies was a much more glamorous affair than our modern, high throughput, high turnover, cineplex paste. In the early days music hall owners, always looking to make a buck, took advantage of the new film technology and films were sometimes shown in conjunction with live vaudeville and musical theater.

And this was the look and feel that the Howard Phillips Lovecraft Historical Society were recreating here prior to their rescreen of their first feature length film: The Call of Cthulhu. The events were also to promote the HPLHS’ latest project, a series of CDs done in the style of old 1920s and 1930s radio serials and all influenced by Lovecraft’s work.

I mostly sat out of this opening material because it included some burlesque that, honestly, I’m too much of a prude to watch. My apologies to all the performers involved, I know they worked very hard–I’m just too square.

But I came back into the theater just in time to watch the rescreening of The Call of Cthulhu, which I first saw at the festival back in 2005. As you can guess from the title, the film is very close adaptation of Lovecraft’s now famous short story.

It’s done the style of 1920s silent films, with a strong influence of German Expressionism and Russian Constructivism, and is very well acted and directed. Considering the tiny budget they had, the HPLHS came up with a very slick and well shot result. And it holds up on repeated viewings. This is a good film! I recommend it highly.

After this came the first shorts block

Directed by Bossi Baker. I liked this one. It’s about a young woman who’s apartment is haunted a sourceless unceasing reverberation. This drives her insane. Simple and well crafted.
“The Whisperer in Darkness”
Directed by Avishai Weinberger. This one wasn’t very good. It felt like an bad film school student project.
“The Picture in the House”
Directed by Josh Deane. A retelling of Lovecraft’s classic about forbidden books and cannibalism. I felt this was actually pretty acted with good portrayals of gathering fear and  forced, creepy camaraderie.
“Pickman’s Model”
Directed by Pablo Angeles. A CG animation with a distinctive look and nice pacing but then it drags out the end in a way that really lessens the tension of the story.
Directed by Sean Beau. A group of friends find a strange monster dying on the beach. Strange infections follow. A simple story and I liked what Beau was doing here. First contact with alien life might be dangerous in lots of unexpected ways.
“Tesla vs Cthulhu”
Directed by Jeff Richards. This one is not strictly Lovecraftian but is strongly influenced by the tropes. Richards clearly intends this to be a series of dieselpunk daring do. Well acted and skillfully executed.
“Autumn Harvest”
Directed by Fredrik S Hana. After the loss of his wife, a fisher makes a dire bargain with forces he does not understand. Well shot and well acted but actually I’ve seen evil mermaids/Innsmouthian themes pretty repeatedly at the festival. I’m getting pretty tired of it.
“Cat Killer”
An rotoscope animated film very loosely based on Herbert West. Ultimately it’s about revenge on cats. Beautiful to watch.
“The Old Man and The Goblins”
Directed by Seamus Walsh and Mark Caballero. Stop motion puppet animation about a hermit who is beset by goblins. A combination of beautiful and grotesque but it wasn’t that strongly memorable to me.
“Flesh and Bone”
Directed by Brett Stillo. A music video shot in San Francisco which mashes up film noir, post-goth and Lovecraft. Slick and skillful but not memorable. Sadly the music was forgettable too and doesn’t measure up to the best of 4AD.

And that’s it.

* I agree that the games are relevant simply because of Sandy Peterson’s much beloved, and epoch defining, tabletop roleplaying game, Call of Cthulhu. This game essentially introduced my generation to Lovecraft when, as unlettered high school students, his books or stories might not have. If you use the expression “sanity check” you can thank Peterson for this.

Old News About the Divided Internet

A photo of the proverbial panic button. I'm using this as a metaphor for technophobia.This fulmination I’ve repeated many times and is about ten years out of date. And it’s full of remarks that people smarter and better paid than me have already long made.

My time online is now divided between two realms. The open, decentralized Internet and the centralized, proprietary, walled gardens of social media companies. And it seems now that most people think the second realm is the Internet.

That’s because the various social media companies have built all kinds of spiders, aggregation tools and code to pull all the content off the decentralized Internet into their realm. This is why Crowley, Zuckerberg, Dorsey and many others have made a lot of money–because the vast majority of people, henceforth referred to as “layer eight”  in this essay, aren’t into information technology.

Technical Barriers

Running your own website, even with content management tools like WordPress is still pretty technical as far as most people are concerned.

  • You have to know how to host a server on your broadband connection
  • You have to know about bandwidth limits and ISP service contacts
  • You have to know about host security
  • Or you have to shop around for a good hosting company
  • You have to know how to install content management scripts
  • Or pay someone to do all these things for you

In the best of all possible worlds absolutely everyone would be their own Internet Service Provider and there’d be no reliance on third party companies, like telecoms or ISPs, at all. Ideally every box would be its own ISP that’s equal on a open, interoperable network of peers.

But really, most people don’t have the time. Ultimately this is why China can have their Great Internet Firewall or why the Egyptian Government could silence the Arab Spring just by turning off everyone’s phone service and it’s ultimately why Facebook and Twitter work. People just want to pick up their phones or smart watches, say something and have it propagated to all their friends, never mind the details. Some of us want to be hotrodders, the rest of us, the Layer 8, just wanna drive home from work without any hassles.

Social Barriers

A picture of Clark Kent, as depicted by the original Fleischer animated films

And then there is the social angle of presenting different faces to different groups of people. The Internet makes it possible for people to take up various degrees of anonymity (This is actually far more complicated than it first appears but for the sake of argument, let’s simplify.) and control over how they present themselves to others.

This is somewhat true in meatspace too. How you behave among old friends is very different than at work among strangers. You might be silly, irreverent and easy going at home and reserved, professional, respectful and polite at work. There are things you can talk about safely at home and among friends which are taboo out in the public world.

To be specific, I’m not going to say embarrassing things on this website, my boss and customers might read this stuff and I don’t want to shut it away from the Internet. But I might say a few slightly more embarrassing things on my Facebook profile which I’ve set not to be readable by anyone who is not my friend on that tool. And there are even more embarrassing things I might say on other, open, Internet sites under pseudonym accounts where I’ve pretty much lied about everything.

The most embarrassing things I could say, we’re talking Snowden/Wikileaks level stuff, I’ve never said yet. But if I did, I’d say it through ssh, tor and a chain of anonymizing proxies so long it would take governments decades to get warrants for. You know, sort of like that scene in Cryptonomicon where Randy Waterhouse illegally randomizes the Epiphyte mail server.

But getting that level of protection from really embarrassing stuff requires great technical skill and as I said, Layer 8 just wants to post stupid pet tricks on streaming media services. So once again social media companies step in to take the technical details out of user hands. Instead you just click a radio button, submit a form and then trust that Zuckerberg has hidden your embarrassing beach photos and drunk bar videos from the general public.

This doesn’t always work though given various single points of failure, the chief of which is believing that the cloud is distributed, decentralized and redundant, when it most emphatically is not. The marketing weasels may assure us otherwise but the truth is local computing is never going away.

What’s the Point?

Anyway, to summarize and focus things, it just makes me sad that the Internet is now divided. I mean I accept it’s reality and I understand, given the nature of Layer 8, this division is not going away.  This is really a long winded way of saying I’ll probably posting more third party hosted multimedia, will continue to use social media services even though I don’t have any real control over them and will probably buy a smart phone pretty soon despite the slowness of Project Ara.

Infernal Polkas, Birthdays and The Barbie and Ken of Fear

Wow, more than a whole half century on this rock! And I got well wishes from many of my friends and family. That’s really about all I can say about my birthday.

Anyway, today I just read news that Donald Trump and Sarah Palin are now in a presidential ticket together. This would be a horrifying thing to discover, if I wasn’t more alarmed at the prospect that these two idiots might actually convince a sufficient number of idiots to win. Every time I think this barbarous country has crossed the Schwarzschild radius of stupidity, it just continues to show me one worse.

But moving on to something more fun, in response to Thursday’s game, a diabolic creature was claimed to be accompanied by sanity draining music which sounded like Lawrence Welk standards, backmasked and run through autotune. Curious, I took “Pennsylvania Polka” reversed it and run it through an autotune plugin in the wonderful open source editing software, Audacity. Here is the result. Make a sanity check at minus four.

In case of Trump and Palin ruling this country come January 20th 2017, make a sanity check at minus eighteen.

3D Printing Fabricates a Small, Steel Bridge

Skynet's robot factory from the Terminator MoviesDecades ago, I remember reading a short by Philip K Dick called “Autofac” which was about replicating machines. It was a bit like his other short called “Second Variety,” although not as sinister, which was also about replicating machines. Replicating machines, even machines capable of reproducing copies of themselves, has been a concept around for a very long time now. John von Neumann is most often cited but it might go all the way back to Samuel Butler or even “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

Anyway, the technologies associated with 3D printing continue to improve, houses are being printed, clothes are being printed, scaffolds for tissue engineering are being printed and now steel bridges are being printed.

There doesn’t seem to be a limit once we figure out how to do it. For more than a decade, there has been steady work on building a 3D printing machine that print out a copy of itself from raw feed stocks.

My Return from The Hoh Valley Death March

No, I did not take this image of the Hoh Rainforest.Normally I don’t do status reports because I’m not famous and usually I have nothing noteworthy to report. But I promised some of my comrades this, so here goes:

On the morning of Friday, the 8th of May, my trip the Hoh Valley Rainforest began. I was picked up around 6:45 AM and we gathered people and gear until there were four of us with packs massing at 15 to 25 kilograms each (As the out of shape newbie, I was given the lightest.). We then took the ferry to the Olympic Peninsula and then drove along Highway 101 towards the Hoh River Trailhead.

Conversation in the car ranged from home renovation and submarine crush depths, to FAA horror stories and jokes of a scatological nature. All this was liberally sprinkled with hiking boot and fishing gear minutiae. This is what happens when you’re the designated, middle aged, non-engineer riding with engineers.

At the trailhead, we packed up and then we hiked about 8 klicks to a designated site named, appropriately enough, “Five Mile Island.” Naming important features on maps is a bit like naming planets or stars in the universe. After a while, you realize there are simply not enough phrases or names in the English language to name the amount of crap that’s out there. There we set up camp.

Setting up camp consists of finding a good rock free spot for your lightweight composite space age tents, setting up your tiny ultra modern water filtration system, finding fire wood and listening to Beck and War on someone’s smartphone.  Mostly I was kneeding my feet or finding excuses not to get up anymore. One of us rewarded the others with 4 New York cut steaks cooked over tiny Alder chips.

Discussion ranged from concerts and music, more engineering and hiking minutiae, endless ribbing over ancient shared memories and continued jokes of a scatological nature. And the drinking of a few shots of whiskey, vodka and tequila.

Hiking is not like walking on sidewalks. Hiking is very aerobic, a sort of mix between marching and stair climbing. You sweat and go through huge amounts of water. The distances covered by hiking seem small by pedestrian standards in the city but moving by foot in the wilderness is an entirely different order of thing. Sidewalks are an enormous convenience. Free of big thick roots or hunks of rock, sidewalks don’t require your feet to twist or bend much to secure a stable position for your next stride. This lets you get away with truly puny footware.

A picture of a spot on the Hoh river that I did not take. Hiking through the brush? Then you’d better get some proper shoes or you’ll pay for it.

My shoes were not hiking boots but were actually pretty good with thick stiff soles. That first march in was fine. After a day hike, another 8 klicks beyond Gravel Bed to the Olympus Ranger Station, on Saturday, my lack of exercise and poor shoes began to tell. Day hikes are where you only pack a small amount of gear, mostly water, in a belt pouch.

At the station three of us, including me, stayed behind to play in the river and make comments on elk poop. One of us, Mr. Super-hardcore, hiked roughly another 3.4 klicks to somewhere up by Lewis Meadow. We waited for him. I didn’t feel an iota of shame or envy.

The hike back was endurable but I was about 15 minutes after the others in returning to camp. The evening consisted of lots of sandwiches made of Gouda and salami of various sorts, peanut butter and jelly, dehydrated astronaut food like beef stew, trail mix and fancy s’mores. Conversation was similar to Friday night and there was more drinking. More music from the aforementioned smartphone–a little Floyd, some soul gospel.

Our camping spot grew more and more crowded by Sunday morning. We packed up and hiked out by 9:45 AM. My friends did this all with very efficient and practiced air.

At the trailhead we drove out. We stopped briefly at Forks (Yeah, that Forks. Honestly I was underwhelmed.) to order a pan pizza and some Mac and Jack’s. It was a Sunday Mother’s Day; service was slow but the pizza was tasty enough. Hunger will do that to you.IMG_2561pi

Conversation in the truck back was dampened, at least for me, by sleep deprivation and leg soreness. I fell asleep on the twists of Highway 101. Every time we took a stop I stretched my calves as best I could.

On the whole it was fun. I genuinely had a good time. No heart attacks or strokes happened. I saw some cool things. The company was enjoyable and supportive. I was surprised, given my lack of intense walking exercise over the last two years, how well I did.  Things hurt at the end but not paralyzingly so. But I’d still prefer to keep this to a once a year thing. I’m an urban rat, not a granola boy.