July 2008

Fashion Statement of the Day

by Joey deVilla on July 28, 2008

Gary Spivey, Psychic Medium
How can a single photo say so much?
Photo courtesy of Miss Fipi Lele.

Gary Spivey, “professional psychic”, wears his trademark afro wig whenever making a public appearance. I’m certain that in his mind, the wig says “take me seriously”.

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Accordion News for July 27th, 2008

by Joey deVilla on July 27, 2008

Accordion Death Squad

Accordion Death Squad

Brian Jepson forwarded me an email with the preface “Couldn’t let this sit in my inbox without sending it to Accordion Guy!” The email announced some bands coming to his home area (he’s deep in Family Guy country), including an intriguing one called Accordion Death Squad. How could I not like a band with a name like that and a description like this?

Accordian Death Squad come from Ratsylvania, where we would dance, play music, fight, strip off all our clothes, blacksmith, and generally carry on without work of a mundane sort. A few of us decided to venture away from our past haven and found ourselves traveling dusty freight cars through a strange God-soaked place called the U.$.A.. Our instruments: accordions, cello, fiddle, mandolin, toy piano, guitar, tenor banjo.

America’s Got Talent Doesn’t Like Accordions

Here’s a clip from America’s Got Talent in which an accordion-playing duo get rejected simply for their instrument of choice. It’s a pity, because their technique is excellent:

Chris from the blog Let’s Polka writes:

I try to avoid watching reality TV because it usually just makes me angry. For example, take this clip from the latest episode of America’s Got Talent in which Branson accordionists Dan and Kim Christian get the boot simply because they play the accordion.

“If there’s one thing worse than an accordion, it’s two accordions.” But what about three accordions? Or five accordions? Or (gasp) fourteen? Frankly, I don’t think you can ever have too many accordions.

Keeping the Accordion Alive in South Florida

The Accordion Club of South Florida is keeping the accordion alive:

[Club organizer Peter Lapira] said the goal is to get as many different groups together to see how many they can perfect including jazz, tango and rock ‘n’ roll accordion groups.

“For people who think the accordion is goofy, they are so wrong. It is a wonderful instrument,” he said. “You really become a one-man band. We are the only country that doesn’t have young people playing the accordion.”

Squeezin’ in Montana

Five Valley Accordion Association Jam

The Five Valley Accordion Association has been carrying the accordion torch for 22 years in the area of Missoula, Montana, and their annual jam took place this weekend:

It was a freestyle jam on an old porch under a blue sky, with young and old squeezing out some classic tunes – age 17 to age Reineohl. The only thing missing was an old bloodhound cuddled up next to someone’s feet, but the chorus of stringed and aerophone instruments kept young and old dancing and clapping.

With more than 200 dues-paying members, the FVAA is filled with accordionists and accordion fans across western Montana. Most, said FVAA secretary Nancy Kopszywa, are folks who just love to show up and dance. In fact, there are only about 20 or so members of the FVAA who actually play the accordion, though all play an instrument of some sort.

Mike Jones, of Victor, serves as this year’s FVAA president. The group gets together a couple of times a month, but the annual picnic and weekend jam is the most important gathering of the year.

“We get together twice a month, but this is definitely the highlight,” he said.

Reineohl, who was born in 1914, picked up the accordion and the banjo at a young age.

Though the average age of those at Friday’s jam session was probably approaching 65, Reineohl said the accordion is definitely making a comeback.

“It’s coming back to life fast,” he said. “A lot of country western bands around are using them. They’re a good lead instrument.”

Notably absent at Friday’s performance was any hint of a polka. And that’s just fine with Reineohl.

“The main thing with the accordion is that you think polka,” he said. “But you can play anything on an accordion.”

BlackBerry + Accordion = Any Tune, Any Time, Anywhere

Dorian Logan assists Joey deVilla at Kickass Karaoke, sometime in 2003
Dorian Logan assists me at a Kickass Karaoke back in 2003. I have no idea what’s up with my eyes — I’m either looking at the screen or in some kind of accordion trance.

Last night, I was at the 9th anniversary of Carson T. Foster’s karaoke night, Kickass Karaoke. Although I haven’t been making it to Kickass Karaoke as often as I used to, I still consider myself part of the Kickass Karaoke family of regulars who’ve been belting out the tunes with Carson. I’d like to thank Carson for the music and all his support, and especially for making my mother-in-law feel at home when she came to a karaoke night while I was out of town.

One of the tricky things about bringing an instrument to karaoke is that it adds another constraint to what you can play: not only do you need to be familiar with the song, you also have to know its chords. Sometimes you get a hint when the karaoke disc announces which key the song is in at the start, but most of the time, you’re on your own.

I used to prep for Kickass Karaoke by Googling for chord charts for songs I wanted to perform on my computer at home, but last night I realized that the BlackBerry provided to me by my work could perform the same function right there at the bar! (Yes, b5media allow some personal use as long as we’re not downloading giant files like movies on it, and I might be the person in the office who uses our phone data plan the least.) I wish I’d had something like this long ago.

When I finally get an iPhone — and that’ll happen when (or perhaps I should say “if”) the data plan pricing here in Canada becomes a little more reasonable — I’ll have to build some kind of rig that’ll let me attach it to the accordion so I can quickly look up chords and lyrics.

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“Ohh How the Tables Have Turned”

by Joey deVilla on July 26, 2008

I really enjoyed this tweet (a message posted on Twitter) from Sean Tiner:

Sean Tuner's tweet: omg i think the delivery man was my high school guidance counselor. ohh how the tables have turned.
Click the image to see the original tweet.

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What’s REALLY Devaluing Marriage

by Joey deVilla on July 25, 2008

Bride and her attendants awaiting botox treatment
Bridal botox party! Karen Hohenstein, left, jokes with her attendants-to-be at a Botox party at the Tiffani Kim Institute Medical Wellness Spa in Chicago.
Photo from the New York Times.

I’m with Jason Kottke: the thing that’s really devaluing marriage isn’t gays and lesbians getting married, it’s way that people are turning it into excuses to exercise gross amounts of self-indulgence and self-absorption.

The New York Times has a story on brides who are demanding that members of their bridal parties get all sorts of cosmetic work done, ranging from coordinated tans:

A bride’s request that you whiten your grayish teeth can strain a relationship. Samantha Goldberg, a wedding planner in Chester, N.J., recalled a bride who asked her attendants to get professionally spray-tanned for a Hawaiian-theme reception.

Alas, two women were claustrophobic and couldn’t bear standing in a tanning capsule. “They asked the bride if they could use regular tanning cream from a salon,” Ms. Goldberg said. The bride refused; she wanted everyone to be the same shade. The women ultimately declined to be bridesmaids. “Friendships of 20-plus years gone over a spray tan?” Ms. Goldberg said. “Sad!”

…to botox…

And how does a bride break it to a mother-in-law that she’d love her crow’s feet to be frozen into submission? Very delicately.

“My mother is in her 60s. She’s been talking about it for so long, so I said ‘Let’s do it,’ ” said Stacey Berlin, 29, a marketing consultant, who is having a party at Aquamedica Day Spa in Long Branch, N.J.

It was trickier with her future mother-in-law. “To her,” Ms. Berlin said, “I said it as a joke: ‘You should do Botox for the wedding!’ She giggled, and then I said, ‘I’m serious. It’s exactly what you need to freshen up.’ At first she kind of laughed it off, but the more we talked about it and I told her my mom was going to do it, she said ‘O.K.’ ”

…and in one egregious case, boob jobs:

Becky Lee, 39, a Manhattan photographer, declined when a friend asked her — and five other attendants — to have their breasts enhanced. “We’re all Asian and didn’t have a whole lot of cleavage, and she found a doctor in L.A. who was willing to do four for the price of two,” said Ms. Lee, who wore a push-up bra instead. Not for nothing are some maids known as slaves of honor, but this kind of cajoling is a recent development on the wedding front.

With this type of silliness going on, it’s no wonder that a lot of people are opting out of weddings and going for domestic partnerships instead.

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Slate has put together an interactive guide to the Bush administration’s various acts in which they broke the law, a screenshot of which is shown below:

Slate\'s interactive guide to the Bush Administration\'s lawbreaking
Click the graphic to try out the interactive guide.

As Slate observes: “if all else fails, fall back on this golden rule of wrongdoing in the White House: All roads lead to Gonzales.

Note that this covers only their illegal activites, as opposed to the larger set of activites that could be classified as wrong, inappropriate or just plain dickish. That one would be considerably larger.

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Um, Smokey, You Might Want to Look Behind You…

by Joey deVilla on July 23, 2008

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Neal Stephenson’s Anathem

A large, thick bubble-wrap-padded envelope arrived for me at the b5media office. As you can see in the photo of the label below, it’s from HarperCollins publishers:

I opened the envelope to my surprise, here’s what was inside:

I was stunned: it’s the much-anticipated Anathem, the upcoming book by T3H DR4K PR1NC3 0F H4X0R F1C7I0N (that’s “1337-speak” for “the dark prince of hacker fiction”), Neal Stephenson. Stephenson has been rather quiet about this one, saying little about the book beyond this oft-bandied-about hint in Gretta Cook’s LiveJournal:

It’s set on another planet and has aliens and so on. It’s really about Platonic mathematics, but he needed the aliens and space opera-ish elements to spice it up a little bit, just like the pirates kept people engaged in the Baroque books.

The Press Release

Here’s what the press release included with the book has to say:

NEAL STEPHENSON WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS OUT OF TORONTO OCTOBER 30TH

From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle comes a new stand-alone novel that marks a return to science fiction — the very genre that is Neal Stephenson.

Stephenson’s first new novel in four years, Anathem, derails a young monk’s quiet life behind the walls of a 3,400 year-old monastery with a world-wide catastrophe.

Since childhood, Raz has lived behind the walls of the monastery — a sanctuary for scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians. There, he and his cohorts are sealed off from the illiterate, irrational and unpredictable “saecular” world, an endless landscape of casinos and mega-stores that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, dark ages and renaissances, world wars and climate change.

Until the day that a higher power, driven by fear, decides it is only these cloistered scholars who have the abilities to avert an impending catastrophe. And, one by one, Raz and his friends, mentors and teachers are sent forth without warning into the unknown.

Anathem confirms Time magazine’s assessment that “Stephenson has a once-in-a-generation gift: he makes complex ideas clear, and he makes them funny, heartbreaking and thrilling.”

The Soundtrack (or: Hey! I know that guy!)

The book comes with an audio CD, whose “liner notes” are on the very first page of the book:

Here’s what the “liner notes” say:

IOLET :: Music from the world of Anathem

Track 1: Approximating Pi (6:53)
Track 2: Thousander Chant (5:29)
Track 3: Proof Using Finite Projective Geometry (4:04)
Track 4: Cellular Automata (5:29)
Track 5: Quantum Spin Network (5:49)
Track 6: Sixteen Color Prime Generating Automation (11:23)
Track 7: Deriving the Quadratic Equation (4:29)

Performers
Jeremy Bornstein – David Krueger
Mark Powell – Adam Steele
David Stutz – Thomas Thompson – James Whetzel

In order to conform to the practices of the avout, this disc contains music composed for and performed by voices alone.

One of the performers’ names jumped at me off the page: David Stutz. I had the pleasure of meeting David first on the Microsoft campus and again at various conferences dedicated to “peer-to-peer” technology. I remember talking not just tech with him, but also about music and our respective arenas musical performance — me with playing with rock bands and as a busker, him with baroque and choral ensembles. A quick check of his personal site confirmed that the David Stutz in the liner notes and the David Stutz I know are one and the same.

Why’d I Get Picked for an Advance Copy?

I suppose that I got the promo package because this blog is on the first page of Google results for the search phrase “Neal Stephenson Toronto”. That’s thanks to my attending his reading back in 2003 and winning a copy of Quicksliver and a chance to hang with him backstage. It’s covered in these three articles:

When Does the Book Come Out?

The publication date is September 13, 2008.

Does the Book Have a Website?

The press release says there’s supposed to be one at anathembook.com, but it doesn’t seem to be set up yet.

Am I Going to Ask to Interview Stephenson?

Interviewing authors isn’t normally my thing, but why not? I’ll let you know what happens.

Related Reading

Anathem and the Long Now: “Neal Stephenson’s new novel, ANATHEM, germinated in 01999 when Danny Hillis asked him and several other contributors to sketch out their ideas of what the Millennium Clock might look like. Stephenson tossed off a quick sketch and promptly forgot about it. Five years later however, when he was between projects, the idea came back to him, and he began to explore the possibility of building a novel around it. ANATHEM is the result, and will be released on September 9th, 02008.”

Anathem’s page on Amazon.com: ” Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside “saecular” world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent’s walls. Three times during history’s darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside—the Extramuros—for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent’s gates—at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious “extras” in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn’t seen since he was “collected.” But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros—a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose—as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world—as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.”

Ask Neal Stephenson questions about Anathem: A Boing Boing article that says: “For a limited time only, fans have the chance to ask Neal Stephenson questions about his upcoming novel ANATHEM (though, of course, he may or may not answer…). Questions and answers will be on an online video that will be released before ANATHEM goes on-sale September 9, 2008.” It links to this blog for Eos Books, the sci-fi imprint of HarperCollins.

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