The other day the child bride's mother randomly asked during a phone call about terrorism. In simple terms, the child bride's mother doesn't fully trust the world outside U.S. borders and she occasionally needs reassurance that her favourite daughter is at least reasonably safe while her favourite daughter's no-good husband insists on living in socialist hotspots.
MOTHER-IN-LAW: "So, are you guys staying alert to any threats from terrorists?" CHILD BRIDE: "Huh?" ML: "I mean, aren't you concerned about terrorism?" CB: "In Wales?!" ML: "Oh, so you're pretty isolated out there, huh? You're kind of far away from it?" CB: "Yes. Definitely, mother."
And the child bride is right. Partially insulated from the rest of the world by the great blanket of ignorance that is the South Wales Echo, we have heard nothing of terrorists* in these parts or, in fact, anywhere on this island, other than those who have been put in prison for life.
Other things we haven't heard about recently on this island: school shooters, workplace shooters, and shopping centre shooters**.
Hmm, perhaps we're not really the ones she should be worried about...
*That said, I just checked the Home Office website and apparently the current threat level in the UK is severe, meaning that "an attack is highly likely." That kind of warning could not be more useless. What does "highly likely" mean? What kind of "highly likely?" Sunshine is highly likely in Majorca, less so in my bedroom closet. Is an attack "highly likely if one is going about daily life in Cardiff;" or is it, "highly likely if one pokes an Islamic extremist with a pointed stick?"
**Great, I've jinxed it now. Some retard is going to let loose with air rifle in Aberdare town centre tomorrow and it'll be all my fault.
I'm not really a science-fiction guy. The only science fiction I've ever read has been Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams and William Gibson and none of it solely for the purpose of reading science fiction. I watch Dr. Who and spot the enormous plot holes (seriously, my bitches, when the pig slaves were attacking Hooverville, Solomon -- who had fought in World War I -- took up the weakest defensive position I've ever seen), and the episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in which Picard learns to play a flute* made me cry, but beyond that I don't really watch a lot of science fiction, either.
Yet, I find myself constantly thinking up lame science-fiction ideas. Case in point, the TV series in my head. And this morning I thought up something new:
Shortly after New York City is completely destroyed by a category 5 hurricane, the United States government finally decides to respond to climate change. Typical of American extremist mentality, it outright bans the use of oil and coal (except for its own military necessity). This move sparks a boom in the use of solar panels and soon the whole of America has an environmentally-friendly dark silver sheen. Western Europe is happy to follow along, as are a number of South American, Asian and African nations. Although it has yet to happen, it is implied that those slow to convert to solar energy will find a U.N. military contingent knocking at the door.
So, the world is becoming a better place but in a slightly uncomfortable way. Amid this, one of the main side-effects is that the cost of silicon jumps rather dramatically. The cost can be offset by using less-efficient, easier-to-produce silicon for the solar panels but the cost of the quality silicon needed for computers bumps up by 900 percent.
At about this same time, an MIT biochemist hooks a special processor to a live chicken's brain and is able to create a shockingly powerful computer, one with vastly more memory than most existing technology. The discovery goes over incredibly well: Chickens are cheap to feed and maintain, they don't require deadly chemicals to create, they are considerably easier to dispose of, and the only power needed is that for the access box (the processor device attached to the chicken's head connects via a simple cable to an "access box" that feeds to a monitor, keyboard and mouse). And, much to everyone's surprise, this bio-computer is impervious to computer viruses. Within a short time, "PC" comes to stand for "personal chicken."
The only drawbacks are this: 1) The chicken has to be alive. 2) Using the computer knocks the chicken unconscious. This has no lasting negative effects, but it does mean you have to shut the computer off so that the chicken will wake up and eat and continue to live. 3) Chickens have a short lifespan. 4) Chickens are difficult to interface. 5) Chickens are troublesome to transport.
These issues lead to further experimentation and eventually Apple develops a hip mouse-based bio-computer that is easier (and cuter) to carry around and, due to the way its brain works, easier to interface. The drawback is that the lifespan is shorter and your computer runs risk of being eaten by the family cat.
At this point, as almost always happens in science fiction, someone works out that human brains are the best suited to this whole bio-computer thing. The size and power of our brains mean that the bio-computers are, in effect, infinitely powerful, we interface brilliantly, and we take direction better than mice and chickens.
But there remains the issue of knocking the "computer" unconscious when it's being used. For the average user then, a person-based bio-computer is unrealistic. Getting a person to carry around your unwritten novel and Frank Sinatra albums in their head is tricky because you run the risk of them deciding they don't really like you anymore. Imagine asking for an extension on your master's degree thesis because your girlfriend is mad and won't let you access your files. So, most people stick to mice and chickens.
But corporations, as they are wont to do, are perfectly happy to use people as computers. People are hired on to basically spend eight hours a day sleeping. Corporations choose candidates who are intelligent, relatively well-adjusted, live healthy lives, and inclined to be loyal to the corporation; a lot of Mormons get jobs as computers**.
And so we arrive at the protagonist, Milo, whose enviable life involves being paid to sleep, eat well, and live healthfully. It's a pretty good life. The corporation puts him and his wife, also a bio-computer, up in a great home and treats them both quite well. Thanks to advanced interfacing technology, they are even able to take vacations, albeit only to corporation-sanctioned locales.
This bio-computer technology is different than William Gibson's microsofts technology which allows a person to input information into their brain and use it. For example, with microsofts you can put a chip in your head and suddenly speak Spanish. With the bio-computer technology, the information is not accessible to the person carrying it. It's just there in their head and they know nothing of it. Occasionally, though, and for unknown reasons, the people serving as bio-computers will experience a "mental burp," in which some bit of data suddenly reaches their consciousness. For the most part, these are short, irrelevant bits of binary. For example, in the way that a smell can suddenly flash a memory of a girl you dated in high school, unspecified situations can suddenly cause the bio-computer to see a stream of binary in his or her head (the headline to this post is "Milo" written in binary). But sometimes, mysteriously, these mental burps will actually produce snippets of intelligible information: "...Davis and I contacted..." "...activates 29 August..." and on.
Milo has been experiencing several of these as of late, all coming from what seem to be the same document. His guess is that it is being accessed and updated frequently, but it's none of his business to bother about what they put in his head and he doesn't pay much attention to it until he wakes up one afternoon and five of his fellow bio-computers are dead, including his wife.
A weak explanation is given and Milo is given a few weeks off to mourn. In that time, he is tormented by the mental burps. He suddenly realises that the document he keeps seeing contains the true explanation of what killed his wife and co-workers, and that something important, something big is set to occur on 29 August. But all these things are totally unclear.
The novel, then, follows Milo as he goes on the run and tries to figure out the mystery of what happened. To access the information, he needs to find someone he can trust -- since he has to be asleep and defenceless when the information is accessed -- someone who can hack the corporation's security codes, and some way to access the information without it being immediately obvious to the corporation (the computers are so well integrated that as soon as the information is accessed, the corporation would know exactly where to find him).
This leads him to hunt down an old work colleague who lives in one of the remaining "carbon nations." Suspiciously, at exactly the same time, a war kicks off against the carbon nation and Milo finds himself pursued by the corporation, government agents from both the carbon nation and the United States, and possibly some other nefarious entity.
And that's what I was dreaming up this morning as I lie in bed staring at the ceiling. My only challenge now is, uhm, thinking up what the hell the big secret is and how Milo could save the world. You know, the plot. I've got an amusing premise and absolutely no substance. Typical.
*You know which episode I'm talking about. If watching that didn't make you weep like big baby, you have no soul.
"Laserdrucker" is a good name for a band. I saw it written on a laser printer, so it probably just means "laser printer" in -- I'm guessing -- German. But if given American pronunciation -- emphasising the "z" sound in "laser" and pronouncing "drucker" as "trucker" -- it makes it sound bad-ass.
My attitude toward the internets is admittedly duplicitous. I have blogs in their multiplicities, yet I am inclined to roll my eyes at people who have accounts on the myriad social-networking sites like Friendster and Facebook. And, of course, I have accounts on these sites. I hate them, I think they are lame (Friendster especially) but I don't want to be left out.
One of the things I dislike about social-networking sites is the fact that they seem to taunt you with how lame you are. Facebook is particularly guilty of this. It breaks people into networks based on region, academic institution or employer**, which lands me in the Wales network and the Cardiff University network. Any time I log on, Facebook kindly reminds me of my status within my respective networks:
Thanks, Facebook. Thanks a lot. Effectively, what you're is saying to me is this: "Look at how many people don't give a toss about you. You big loser. If you were hit by a bus tomorrow, the police sure as hell wouldn't be using this social-networking site to identify you, because NO ONE KNOWS WHO YOU ARE."
Facebook is harsh, man. Anyway, that's why those of you with Facebook profiles who are also in my address book received friend requests from me today. I'm sorry. Facebook was antagonizing me, making fun of me, and I caved to the pressure. Please make me your friend, so that Facebook will stop picking on me. I promise not to take it as an actual sign of friendship and show up expecting you to let me stay at your place for a few days.
*This post's headline doesn't really have anything to do with the actual post. It's a quote from a conversation that I had with Chris a few week's ago. We decided that it would be a good phrase to put on a T-shirt.
I know some pretty people. I know a lot of them, actually. My wife is very pretty -- so much so that I had former KGB agents brainwash her into marrying me (post-Soviet Union espionage types were very affordable in the late 90s. They even let me pay on credit. At 4.3% APR, I found their rates so reasonable that I also decided to have Wilt Chamberlain* killed). Many of the people whose blogs I read (over there on the right) are also pretty.
Many of the pretty people I know are important. They are doctors and teachers and artists and (soon-to-be) religious leaders. Scientists have proven that knowing someone important makes you important by association. This is known as the David Gest Effect. In and of himself, Gest is an insufferable little man, but he knows celebrities. And celebrities are the most important people of all. David Gest knows so many celebrities -- and is therefore so important -- that they have given him his own show.
Having formerly worked in television news, I can claim to have been in close proximity to all sorts of important people, Charo, the Duchess of York, and Amy Hockert among them. But, unfortunately, none of those people could tell you my name (Hockert was slobbering drunk when she and I had wild sex in the back of a '78 Datsun Sunny** and claims not to remember anything from that night). So, I can't really claim to be all that important.
But that's changing. I spotted Asha Tanna (pictured, left) anchoring Five News on Sunday. And I have since found video of her talking to major celebrities. Asha and I know each other from our Pure FM days, when I was goofy for her and displaying all the subtlety of a circus parade in trying to get her attention. I'm pretty sure that interviewing John Travolta and having her face broadcast across the whole of Britain makes Asha eligible to be a contestant on "Celebrity Big Brother," and very important indeed. Which means that I am important. Maybe.
When I saw Asha on TV Sunday, I found myself googly eyed and saying aloud: "Wow, how cool is it that I know someone who anchors the national news?!"
"No. I'm sure she does," I said, trying to convince myself. "We hung out a lot. I have an e-mail from her that she sent in January 2005. She does remember me. She does! I'm sure she does! You're so cruel!"
Then I ran out of the room, crying and flailing my arms like a little girl. I sent an e-mail to Asha, but have yet to hear back from her. I suppose now that she's important she'll deny any knowledge of me, just like that heartbreaker Amy Hockert. (UPDATE: Asha wrote back. In your face, doubters.)
A few months ago, Jenny identified one of the greatest uses of the internet so far: CryingWhileEating.com. It's a simple concept -- the name says it all -- and it's brilliant. On the site, there is an explanation with each video as to what the person is eating and why they are crying.
Here, I am eating a Marks & Spencer Victoria Sandwich Cake. I am crying because when I tried to explain CryingWhileEating.com to Fflur she didn't seem to understand why it was so funny.*
For those of you playing along at home, an interesting fact about the cake I'm eating: According to the box, it's supposed to feed six people. What kind of fuckery is that? I'm not sure whether the fact that I think it is outrageously small speaks more to my American upbringing or simply that I love carbs.
Apologies to Dan, by the way. When his apartment burned down I told him that I would do a Crying While Eating video in which I cried over the loss of all his possessions. I never did that, but he scores a blog point with this mention.
*It's entirely possible that the quality of my Welsh is to blame for that. The way I stammer through sentences, perhaps she thought I was trying to tell her about something else but using the wrong words.
I'm not sure how much longer they will be available, but I highly recommend listening* to all the songs here. There are 13 tracks from a live Amy Winehouse performance earlier this year in Amsterdam that serve to eliminate any doubt I may have had as to her musical skillz.
Not a pretty lady is Miss Winehouse, but she's got that voice. Seriously, where the hell does that sound come from? You've got this wilty little English-Jewish heroin addict and out comes a voice that threatens to bitch slap Aretha Franklin. And Aretha never sang, "What kind of fuckery is this? You made me miss the Slick Rick gig."
From all the things one reads about Winehouse, you've got to think she's not particularly long for this world. Unless she finds Jesus or some such thing, she'll likely end up dead in a hotel room in the next few years. But while she's alive, she's putting out some quality music.
It speaks to my observation that there seem to be more genuinely good pop music acts in Britain than in the United States. Remove Justin Timberlake from the equation and what have you got? Some guy named Bucky and a load of substandard R&B/hip-hop acts who have abandoned the English language ("Buy U a Drank"?! What kind of fuckery is that?).
*And just listen to them; don't download them, because downloading free music is bad.
Remember when I used to write columns? Yeah, it's been a while. But here's my latest. I can't say I'm particularly happy with this new thing of highlighting target words for advertising purposes. It smacks of that attitude that restaurants have when they charge for water.
But I don't actually work for the fine company that hosts my columns, so I don't really have ground to stand on. They give me an audience that would normally be completely impossible for a writer of my standing. So, if they want to put target-word advertising in my columns, they've got every right to do so, I suppose.
And aren't I the pot calling the kettle black, with my Google advertising over there on the right? Just as the Google advertising covers the cost of my self-important domain name (It's netted a whopping $31.05 since I added it in January), the money from tacky target-word advertising helps pay the salaries of the people I used to work with, many of whom I like quite a bit.
I seem to have gone into power-saving mode over the last fortnight. When my computer is on power-saving mode that means it is on but doing fuck all, which is a pretty accurate description of me these days.
For the most part I find myself interested in two things: the child bride and my new iPod. Being interested in one's wife of almost eight years is all well and good, but Rachel goes to work during the day, which leaves me spending eight hours staring at a little shiny thing that has no moving parts.
The iPod is a gift from my parents, who were in town for the week before Easter. Having my parents visit was a bit like going on a game show, in the sense that I walked away from the experience with cash and prizes. Sadly a lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni was not among the prizes.
The contestants on "The Price Is Right" (the U.S. version) are always sent home with a lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni. How in the hell do they determine what a "lifetime supply" is? As someone who has, in fact, never consumed a single Rice-A-Roni product, I'd reckon two boxes would equal a lifetime supply for me. But presumably there are people who could eat a whole mess of Rice-A-Roni, people who could eat nothing but for the rest of their lives. One can only hope, for fairness' sake, that these are the people going on "The Price Is Right."
But as I say, I got an iPod; which means I can now get hearing damage and participate in iPod blog memes, like all the cool kids.
I realise a blog post about iPods is ridiculously outdated, but that's how I roll, bitches. The rest of you no doubt spotted this back when Des'ree was popular, but an interesting side-effect of the iPod's shuffle feature is that you find yourself listening to music you had no idea existed in your library.
Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only;" how the hell did that get in there? And, of course, I will sit there and listen to it because I am too paranoid to pull my iPod from my pocket and skip ahead. I do that sneaky earbuds-up-through-the-shirt thing that you see everyone doing on the train (for those of you playing along back in the United States, a "train" is a big sort of box thing that people take to work. It's a bit like an airplane but it goes on the ground and is more environmentally sensible), as if that is going to somehow thwart chav thieves: "Oh, I say. That chap's earbuds are coming out of his shirt. One is left to conclude that his iPod is implanted in his chest. Let's not muck with him. Stealing his iPod would be messy and waste valuable energy, forcing us to spend another seven hours hanging out behind the Somerfield eating giant Cadbury eggs."
I have a lot of really bad music in my library. This is down to two main factors: 1) I refuse to accept reality; 2) I refuse to throw away music.
Many moons ago, when buffalo roamed the plain, before white man came to steal my land, I had a university radio show that no one listened to. But I had shagged the station manager, so she sent a tape of my show off to the Student Radio Association awards and I came runner-up in the best male presenter category. Since then I have had visions of grandeur that refuse to accept the reality that I am neither on radio nor making any attempt to be on radio. As a side effect, I find myself collecting various bits of comedy audio, like this. Would you put that on your iPod? Of course not. But I did. Because I see myself one day using a clip of it in my radio show that doesn't exist.
Then I make it worse by refusing to throw anything away. Shortly after high school, I sold my CD collection to maintain my girlfriend habit, and I have regretted the decision ever since. Because sometimes, damn it, I really want listen to Frente!'s "Labour of Love,"* but I have too much self-respect to buy the CD all over again. So, now I keep everything, because I have no idea when or if I will ever want to listen to "The Lions and the Cucumber" by the Vampire Sound Incorporation, but I don't want to be left wanting. The only thing worse than listening to Frente!'s "Labour of Love" is wanting to listen to Frente!'s "Labour of Love." For several days.
My parents bought me an 80GB iPod, which makes me the coolest of all the cool kids. Irish comic Dara O'Briain does a bit in which he claims that his 80GB iPod is taunting him by having so much memory, which I find myself suddenly able to relate to. The 80GB limit feels like a challenge, especially with the bulk of my CDs still sitting in boxes in Minnesota. A smart man would have converted all those CDs into mp3 files before leaving -- thus eliminating the need to transport physical items that cost hundreds of dollars to ship -- but I am not a smart man.
*Blimey, how minimalist is that video? I suspect it took only slightly longer than the song itself to shoot.
In Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms, it mentions that fighting in World War I was mostly seasonal. Once the weather got bad, the armies pretty much held up and sat still for the winter -- or at least those armies attempting to invade Italy from the Alps.
The fireworks have started up in Danescourt again. The sound of them going off in the distance and echoing against all the brick houses makes me think of the background noise when war correspondents are holed up in the hotels.
I always find it amusing to think that chavs are taking part in some sort of wild running battle for control of Cardiff. I'm pretty sure we would be safe in such a scenario because we are nowhere near the KFC.
"Alright, sir. If you wouldn't mind running through it again for us..."
"Sure, me and my son, we're here in the kitchen making Slurpees..."
"I think Slurpee is a trademarked product, sir."
"Fine, we're making a Slurpee-like flavored ice drink in the kitchen, when suddenly this huge son of a bitch comes crashing through the wall and screaming at us."
"Through the wall?"
"Yeah. Right through a fucking brick wall. Scared the shit out of Tyler. He just got over wetting the bed, too. This experience ain't gonna do him no favors."
"And what did you do?"
"Well, fortunately I had my Smith and Wesson Model 500 holstered..."
"Smith and Wesson Model 500. It's a .50 caliber handgun. Anyway..."
"Hold on - .50 caliber?! You just happened to be carrying, not just a loaded firearm, but the most powerful handgun in the world. In your kitchen."
"What part of the Second Amendment says I can't have a gun in my kitchen?"
"Fair enough. I assume you attempted to shoot the assailant?"
"Emptied the fucking chamber at him. But, he moved really quick for such a big guy, so I think I only got him once."
"I'd think once with a .50 cal would be enough."
"He broke through a brick wall, remember. But it'll slow him down. He went off that way, up Davis Avenue."
"Yeah. We've got men out for him... OK, hold on, my radio's flashing at me. This is Detective Habbards, 10-9 please."
"Code 10. Code 10. Suspect spotted on Davis and 14th. Possible 11-47. Detective, I think we've got your guy."
"10-4. I'm 11-15."
"10-9, sir. I'm pretty sure you're not 11-15."
"Really? What's 11-15?"
"Ballgame in street."
"Huh? Why the hell is that a code?"
"No clue, sir. Presumably at one time the department had to break up a lot of ballgames."
"OK. 537 then?"
"Defrauding an innkeeper, sir?"
"Christ on a cupcake! What's the code for 'I'm on my way and I'll be there as fast as I can?'"
"There is no code for that, sir. It's assumed. If you want, you can say 'en route.'"
"10-4. En route."
"'Officer arrived at scene.' Very good, sir."
"I'm fine. How are you holding up?"
"No, sir. 11:52 a.m., sir."
"Ah, right. All this is a long way to go just to show off that someone still remembers the radio codes for the San Diego Police Department. What's the situation here?"
"Well, sir, I'm pretty sure we've got your perp holed up in this Biffy over here. And from the looks of it he's in bad shape. Take a look at the snow leading up to the portable toilet -- stained with red."
"Jesus. OK, hand me the megaphone... Hey! You in there -- in the porta-potty. Can you hear me?"
"Wait a second. If there's snow on the ground, how could we have been using San Diego police codes?"
Sometimes the world is not fair. We all know that, but sometimes it is more glaringly obvious. Sometimes the unfairness of this life looks you square in the eye and doesn't even flinch when it stabs you in the gut.
They were good. I mean really, really good. Originally formed as yet another ska band, their horn section was just too powerful for such staid musical confines. In its prime (1997-2000), the horn section was fronted by two trombones -- instruments that, when played right, produce a brutal sound; a sound that punches and leaves you standing dumb like Peter Manfredo Jr. against Joe Calzaghe. This was supported by trumpet and sax and keys that swirled around the jabs and pulled you in. The whole thing fell together so perfectly that you found yourself not really hearing the different instruments, just this immense, immense sound. It was a sound that you could feel in your chest, a sound that felt too large for your head.
Fuelling the immensity was the sort of if-Animal-were-real-and-angry-and-100-feet-tall drumming you would expect from a guy who taught himself to play by listening to Kiss records. Atop it all was a larger-than-life frontman who stood as ringmaster, wailing and bellowing through the songs.
Obviously, with such a dynamic sound they were difficult to categorize. They were sort of a cross between stadium rock, Barenaked Ladies, Mighty Mighty Bosstones (circa Let's Face It), Parliament, and the first time a girl let you put your hand up her shirt. The lyrics were rapid-fire funny and brilliant, the music was incredible, and their shows were explosive in energy. They remain my favourite band of all time.
OK, true, I went to high school with three of the band members, one of whom has been my best friend for 19 years*, and I wrote the lyrics to one of their songs. I am biased. Even in the face of this they were good. In my mind, they had everything they needed to be big and I very seriously believed that one day everything would drop into gear and they would be touring around the world.
That never happened, of course. They played in bars in forgettable towns in forgettable states, bounded across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin in an old school bus that they had won in a battle of the bands competition, until growing up became inevitable. The band split in 2000 and the members became husbands, fathers, home owners, teachers. A few of them joined other bands and achieved equal levels of success (most notably Jack Brass Band, where the two-trombones-kicking-your-ass-with-sound format was again used), but the 3MH experience remains wholly unique in my eyes.
The story of 3 Minute Hero is an almost bittersweet tale; evidence that incredible talent can exist and go unnoticed. It forces you to realise that there are authors more brilliant than Shakespeare who will never be published, songs being sung that would fill your soul but that you will never hear. It's unfair.
But there is hope: They're back, bitches!
Well at least for two performances. One will be in St. Peter, Minn., which became a sort of spiritual home for the band, and the other will be at Minneapolis' Fine Line. Their meteoric rise to fame will still probably never occur but at least a few more people will get a chance to finally hear the greatest band they never knew existed.
3 Minute Hero's Fine Line show is June 9, so you can expect to see me going on about this for a while. I am very serious that when I got the e-mail from Eric today I spent about half an hour trying to figure out if it would be at all possible for me to fly back to the U.S. to see the show (sadly, ignoring the $1,500 cost of a flight, I still have exams at that time).
There are a goodly number of Upper Midwesterners who read this blog, though, and I would encourage them to make the trip. No, really. This is a band worth driving several hours to see. Tickets are only $11, so you should have some extra money to buy Eric a beer.
Hola. I'm Chris Cope, author of the books The Way Forward and Cwrw am Ddim. I'm originally from Austin, Texas, but through a series of terrible and wonderful events called "life," I now reside in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland -- specifically the bit that is Penarth, Wales. Occasionally I write things.