It Happened to Me

“Unfinished Business” Week, Part 2

Another installment of stuff I was going to blog earlier, but didn’t.

Kingston’s Loudest Band

My sister recently found an old newspaper clipping I’d sent her from my university days almost ten years ago. It was an article written for an old Kingston paper called INQ (short for Independent News of Queen’s; it vanished after it was discovered that it was funded with money stolen from a charity organization) reviewing our band, Volume.

For the most part, we received good reviews. We were pretty good musicians, and I think at least two of us – namely Andrew and me – are still actively gigging; Andrew’s the drummer for a Vancouver band called Feisty, and I’m ready-at-a-moment’s notice accordion backup for whomever needs it (inlcuding Lindi, whose CD release party is this Thursday).

The article was written by Elan Mastai, who’s gone on to work on scripts for the big screen.

Mike, Chris, George and Andrew, this one’s for you.

Discovering the Length, Width and Depth of Volume

Elan Mastai
INQ Newspaper
Wednesday, April 7, 1993

My regular Thursday ritual of staring transfixed at the television screen absorbed in the intricacies of Seinfeld was abruptly disturbed on April 1st. The distraction came in the form of an invitation to check out Volume at the Carribbean Club. Fortunately for my friend, I was very impressed by Volume’s three-set performance.

Volume definitely has the “grunge” look down pat. All the musicians involved were repsectably clad in multiple layers of flannel, beer ads and rock band T-shirts. They primarily played covers of current Seattle-scene alternative rock.

Volume’s music is of a fairly loud variety, and their sound packs a solid punch.

Bar bands often seem to rely on the ability of their guitarist to carry the tunes, leaving drums and bass to establish the background rhythm (particularly in this age of pre-fabricated techno music). Volume’s drummer, Andrew Pirie, has an established stage presence. His thundering beat had much of the crowd bobbing their heads in synchronicity. Fortunately, George Scriban’s bass stood out as sound completely separate from Chris Walmsley’s guitars. Although the guitars were great, Walmsley wasn’t really allowed to cut loose on any solos until the third set.

Keyboardist Joey deVilla filled out the instrumental section of Volume. deVilla apologized early for his real keyboard having been repossessed. Regardless, I’ve never seen anyone actually play the keyboard with their forehead and still maintain the tune. I was suitably impressed.

They keyboards provided nice additional melody, although it was a real battle to hear them over Walmsley’s guitar.

Vocalist Mike List has a great edge to his voice. When he’s allowed to cut loose with one of his primal yowls, you can feel your brain quiver. List’s vocals on tunes like Alice in Chains’ Would? and Soundgarden’s Outshined are along the lines of what Janis Joplin would have sounded like, had she been a werewolf (and male).

However, Volume would do well to play to List’s strengths and stay away from his weaknesses. Volume has a tight sound, but they should steer clear of more melodic vocal material – ground upon which List is obviously uncomfortable. The only real disappointments of the night were covers of Epic and Nearly Lost You. (I know, I know, Faith No More and Screaming Trees are not generally considered melodic, but it’s all relative.)

However, this criticism is not meant to detract from the band’s overall appeal. They are simply better on the heavier material. Highlights of the night included bang-on covers of Pearl Jam’s Alive and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Suck My Kiss. On another of the more memorable covers, List borrowed from U2’s Bono stating “this is a song Black Francis stole from the Beatles, now we’re stealing it back”. The band then promptly broke into a killer version of Honey Pie.

Practically worth the three-dollar admission charge itself, was the hilarious rendition of Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy. List surrendered vocals to deVilla for the cover, giving himself an opportunity for a quick rest. deVilla went way over the top, yelping like a post-punk daemon of disaffected suburban youth and paying particular attention to the more socially stigmatized anatomical protrusions of the human body.

Another of the highlights of the show was Volume’s only original of the night, an incredible tune called No Wonder. If No Wonder is an indication of the original songs Volume is producing, I only wish they would include more originals in future sets. It is so difficult for independent bands to land jobs that often it is necessary to play covers. However, I think that Volume will find that original songs allow the band to evolve more fully and create their own sound. Originals also allow the band to play to their own strengths, particularly on the part of the vocalist.

The band actually played No Wonder twice, the second rendition as the last song of the final set. It was requested by two fairly large individuals who took it upon themselves to create a two person mosh pit on the Caribbean’s chessboard dance floor.

I spoke to deVilla during the break between the first and second sets. He tells me that currently the band is mostly working on gaining exposure around town and refining their original material. Volume will be playing semi-regularly over the course of the summer at the Caribbean with their next show scheduled for Thursday, April 8th.

While Volume hardly transcends the idiom of popular culture or any pretentious music-critic distinction like that, they are well worth seeing. Those of you who do not gauge their musical tastes by its obscurity (just because it sells a million compact discs doesn’t mean it’s not excellent music) and are into the sonic barrage that Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains have cashed in on should like Volume.

Volume is a band that is not only interesting to listen to, but between the hyperkinetic flopping of List and deVilla and the musical skill of Pirie, Scriban and Walmsley, Volume is a band that is also entertaining to watch. All in all a great show. Check them out.

Elan pounded his head against his computer keyboard in the deVilla style while writing this article.


Welcome to “Unfinished Business” Week!

From this Saturday to the next, I’ll try and take post things I’d been meaning to post earlier, continuations of series I got started on, and follow-ups. Hope you like them.

Unemployed? Sure. Unstoppable? Hell yeah!

The day after I got sacked, I made this little cartoon — I took some liberties and created my own comic strip in the style of My New Fighting Style is Unstoppable (check out their series Get Your War On and Get Your Enr On).

AccordionGuy and Photoshop in the house!



From Mighty Girl’s blog:


Raspberry bathroom air fresheners are unsettling. The area where one defecates should not smell edible.

She’s so right-on I may just have to ask her to marry me!


Microsoft Gets Security Religion, Part 3

In his memo on Trustworthy Computing, Gates says that ideal computer systems should be as reliable as services such as electricity, water and telephones. Doc Searls made the very astute observation that these services are infrastructure, and has this to say:

Interesting. Those other services are infrastructural. Significantly, their workings are transparent. There is no secret to how any of them work. (Even digital telephony.) As de facto infrastructure, Windows is anomalous in its lack of transparency.

He has a point here. You can easily look up documents on electric generation plant, water pumping stations and telephone company switches; you can even take tours of these facilities. You can’t do that with Windows, because beyond a certain point, its inner workings are hidden to anyone not working at Microsoft. We programmers can only go as far as the API — the Application Program Interface, the thing that allows our programs to use the services provided by Windows. Even then, Microsoft supposedly doesn’t make their entire API known; it gives them an edge over everyone else when it comes to writing software for Windows.

With real-world infrastructural services like electricity and water, the inner workings are subject to scrutiny. You can hire an independent engineering firm to do an audit of a power plant to see that it’s being properly run and maintained. You can’t do that with Windows since it’s a black box. The underlying code has always been unavailable to the general public, and only recently has it been made available to select business partners through its “shared source” program.

Searls goes on by providing a contrasting example: Apple’s Mac OS X.

By choosing to develop OS X on a transparent base – Darwin, which is BSD on a Mach kernel. [It’s open source, which means that the source code — the “recipe”, if you will — is free available for any to read or modify — Joey]. Apple respected the essentially infrastructural nature of operating systems, and the need for transparency at that level. I was talking with an Apple guy who works on OS X last night, and he was going on about the synergy between the company and outside Darwin hackers who shared an interest in improving Darwin as base-level infrastructure. Also about what Apple is giving back to the world in its work on FireWire, for example.

I think, in the long run, Microsoft would be wise to do the same, at least if it wants to maintain Windows’ infrastructural role.

It sounds like a good idea, but will Microsoft do it?

More on infrastructure

Thinking of software as infrastructure led me to think of other properties of “real-world” infrastructure and whether or not software infrastructure has something comparable.

Real-world infrastructural services are accountable to the public and to the government. When blackouts like those that happened last year in Califonia happened, there was a public outcry and action on the part of the state and federal goverments. When operating systems fail, there’s some public outcry that gets a token response from the software company’s tech support and marketing departments and almost nothing the government can do. When you rip open the packaging of your operating system, you are “signing” a EULA (End User Licensing Agreenment) which pretty much absolves the software company of any blame for anything bad the software does. Certain EULAs go even father — the EULA for Microsoft SQL Server (it’s database software) expressly forbids you from publishing performance data comparing it to other database software, or even data comparing SQL Server on different versions of Windows!

Real world infrastructure often has to meet some kind of safety standard, There are building codes, standards for electrical and chemical safety, government bodies like the FCC (Federal Communications Commision) and NTSB (National Travel Safety Board) and independent organizations like Underwriter’s Laboratories that perform safety and standards tests on real-world products. With software, you’re relying on the diligence of your software vendor’s QA department.

Real-world infrastructural services are usually designed by accredited engineers who are members of professional societies (in the case of Ontario, Canada, where I live, it’s the PEO — Professional Engineers of Ontario). Programming isn’t a profession, and many programmers out there taught themselves rather than going to University and majoring in computer science. I’m not saying being self-taught is necessarily a bad thing; many great programmers out there didn’t major in computer science or even go to university. However, accreditation fosters accountability, which is a neccesity when making infrastructure.

Real-world infrastructural services can be proven to work on paper. We have sufficient math to prove that a bridge or building design will work (and we also have thousands of years’ experience in making them, too), or that a chemical reaction will happen just a expected in a factory or that electricty will flow from point A to point B at the expected voltage and current. However, computer science is still a young field; the definition of what is computable didn’t come up until the 1930’s, and von Neumann didn’t come up with the guiding principle behind machines today until the 1940’s, and we didn’t have ENIAC until the 1950’s. We can’t prove that a piece of software will work without taking a ridiculously long time: for example, the math required to prove that a simple program adds two numbers correctly takes up two pages of legal foolscap (that was a question on one of my final exams).

Software is becoming infrastructure, but it doesn’t yet have the constraints that infrastructure needs. What we call “software engineering” is far from real engineering, in spite of the fact that we’re beginning to rely on it as much as other infrastructure that is engineered. As developers, we’re going to have to meet the challenge of turning computer science from its current hodge-podge state into a true engineering discipline; as consumers and citizens, we’re going to have to demand it from developers, software vendors and bodies like the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery).

Then, we may have a decent shot at Trustworthy Computing.



Silly online test of the week…

…goes to The Breakfast Club Personality Test, which is on this site. Here’s my result:

Home Alone and Baby’s Day Out, but I think part of the problem is that he stopped writing Molly Ringwald vehicles. All worship The Molly. And her very nice New York apartment.


This is what the Internet’s all about

From The Official Ninja Webpage:

Hi, this site is all about ninjas, REAL NINJAS. This site is awesome. My name is Robert and I can’t stop thinking about ninjas. These guys are cool; and by cool, I mean totally sweet.


1. Ninjas are mammals.

2. Ninjas fight ALL the time.

3. The purpose of the ninja is to flip out and kill people.

Damn, they’re mammals? On the Internet, you learn something new every day.

Warning: The Official Ninja webpage has some really annoying background music. Turn down the volume on your speakers.


Speaking of trustworthy computing…

Here’s a great story about how AppleScript (a scripting language for Macs) helped keep sensitive data safe and helped recover a stolen iMac. The iMac’s owner managed to access his stolen machine remotely, wrote a script to set the AOL client to dial his home number, which gave him a caller ID trace. I think we have an early candidate for “Hack of the Year,” folks…

(Thanks to Leandro for the link.)