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Archive for May, 2015

Ah, Arizona

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Today I saw a woman walking a horse along a back road in the little town where I live. That is, the horse was walking.  The woman had ahold of its reins as she drove alongside in an electric golf cart.

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Go Big Red!

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Good on Nebraska’s legislature, who banned the death penalty. They did it for all the wrong, libertarian reasons–less government is good government–but hey!  When you’re dealing with Nebraska, you take what you can get.

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Tech Woe

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Summer has come to the Valley of the Morlocks, suddenly, as it always does. So all us Morlocks just now remembered what we dislike about living in this otherwise pleasant place: from June to October we’re stuck inside most of the day, and we depend on the power company and our cooling equipment (literally) to keep us alive.

Those of us who have experience with southern Arizona summers have developed ways of coping. All year long I put off stuff that has to be done by telling myself “I’ll do it this summer when I’m stuck inside.” For instance I vowed I would finally clean out the kitchen and bathroom cabinets this summer. Yeah sure. So to put that off, I decided to convert my audio tapes and vinyl records to mp3, which is a lot more fun than cleaning cabinets. Or so I thought.

I’ve learned a thing or two since yesterday. For one, I can’t use my laptop to record because most laptops have a microphone boost that causes sound-recording programs to go apeshit because the input volume is just too high. My gaming rig allows me to alter the boost (although I gather many laptops are not so equipped), but even at the lowest volume setting Audacity shows the best parts of Santana’s Abraxas registering in the red. (Audacity is of course a sound-recording progam, and it’s free. While its interface can be intimidating, there’s nothing better out there, IMHO).

For good quality recordings one needs a good tape deck. I have one of those. Problem is, that sucker is old–I bought it over thirty years ago. It has only RCA connectors because it was part of a bigger package that included an amp, which died long ago.  Sigh. I have a newer amp, of course, but it’s hooked up to the TV and a hundred other things. So the deck’s lack of connectors poses a bit of a problem because my current desktop computer has oodles of HDMI and USB ports, but nary an RCA or S/PDIF.

Yesterday, faced with this problem, I dug out my ten-year-old Falcon, which has been patiently sitting under the desk waiting for me to clear off its hard drive so I can recycle it. It has a dynamite sound card–Creative’s Fatality–that has every sort of connector a human being could ever want, and it seems to want to work, still. So there is that. To use it, though, I’ll have to buy RCA cables.  Or, I can buy an RCA-to-TSR cable (a TSR is that tiny 1/8-inch connector that plugs speakers into computers) and use the newer Falcon.

In the meantime I converted some CD’s to mp3, just to see how the good old music sounds on my new Bose speakers.  In a word: excellent. Buoyed by that experience, I opened up Audacity to see what it thought about my recordings.  Lo and behold, it registered considerable noise before I played anything at all. So I went through the process of shutting everything down, one source at a time. Still noise. What the hell?  And then I realized: Audacity was picking up the noise made by the ceiling fan!

So I’m back where I started. A Morlock can’t do summer without a ceiling fan.

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Night Bloomers

When I was communing with botanists back in the day we once made a trip to far southern Arizona, where a night-blooming cereus was reputed to grow. Using maps that were usually kept under careful guard, we found the place and set up camp during a very hot desert afternoon. We went to bed (actually sleeping bags) early and one of the crew wakened us at midnight. Sure enough, the scrawny plant had produced a glorious white bloom!

But it paled in comparison to the blooms in these pictures taken be a fellow whose handle is Stan of the Strawgrass.  Check out this photo:

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Stan posted this and three other pictures on Balloon Juice, and they are so stunning I wanted to share one.  You can find the rest in the original post at http://www.balloon-juice.com/. If you jump over there later in the day, you will no doubt be obligated to scroll down.

Thanks, Stan.

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Dark Wedding

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A huge flap has coalesced around last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones. Sansa Stark, the eldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Tully Stark (and as far as anyone on the show knows, heir to Winterfell), was raped by her new husband, Ramsay Bolton. Mercifully, the rape was not depicted on-screen;  us viewers watched Theon Greyjoy’s agonized face as he watched, remaining in the room at Ramsay’s orders. (A neat cinematic trick, that–double voyeurism. Is that why everybody is so bent?)

I’m not sure why this rape caused a bigger kerfluffle than others within the GOT universe;  Daenerys, Cersei, and Theon have all been subjected to brutal sex, not to mention the horrors meted out to sex workers like Ros. I suppose viewers want Sansa to succeed after having been treated so badly throughout the show:  her direwolf is killed, another young sadist forces her to look at her father’s severed head, she is terrorized by the Hound and manipulated by Littlefinger. Her rape violated one of the narrative conventions of fantasy, and hence our generic expectation, that the heroine–if Sansa is indeed the intended heroine of the show–is supposed to be rescued at the last minute.

It’s not as though viewers were not prepared for something like this. We know from previous seasons that Ramsay Bolton is a sexual sadist. Sansa might not be aware of the extent of his villainy, but she has no reason to trust him or his father, who killed her mother and brother after all. So the question of her agency arises. Could she have refused to participate in Littlefinger’s plot to retake Winterfell, which requires this marriage?  We are not told–after momentary resistance to the idea she folds, as she has often done.  If the showrunners want us to believe that Sansa is also playing the Game of Thrones with this marriage, they could have given her some dialogue to that effect, rather than relying on the actress’ admittedly considerable talent for facial gestures.

I will not make a feminist argument here because two excellent reviews of this episode have done that.  Amanda Marcotte’s brief reviews of this episode can be found at Slate and Salon but her more thorough analysis appears at Pandagonhttp://www.rawstory.com/2015/05/all-hopefully-of-the-bad-arguments-about-rape-on-game-of-thrones-debunked.  And Sarah Mesle has a thoughtful take in the Los Angeles Review of Books:   http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/game-of-thrones-season-5-unbowed-unbent-unbroken.

I do want to mention a discussion I had yesterday with Desert about this episode.  Her feeling about this season of GOT is that it just isn’t as riveting as previous seasons (I hope I have paraphrased you correctly, Desert).  I agree.  One reason for the difference, I think, is that the showrunners have had to abandon Martin’s work as they push ahead without his novels to guide them.  IMHO, their thought is neither as nuanced nor sophisticated as his.  As I’ve said before, some of this may be due to the difference in medium.  And I expect they are under a certain amount of pressure from HBO, not only to show more boobs and butts, but to shock the audience.  Hence last Sunday we saw Tyrion, the wittiest character played by the best actor in the series, reduced to making cock jokes in order to escape enslavement. None of this would have been necessary had the showrunners not substituted Jorah Mormont for an entire cast of other characters who make Tyrion’s journey to Valyria not only plausible, but interesting and entertaining.

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I’ve always thought of myself as fairly tech-savvy. I got my first computer in the 1980s, back in the day when the letters I typed into my word-processing program showed up amber on a black screen. I got into electronic gaming in the early ‘nineties and I still play (Witcher 3 comes out today!). And we even have a category for tech on this yere blog!

But I’ve discovered in the last few days that tech advances even faster than I’m growing old. Because summer is coming (take that, Ned Stark), I’ve had to repair to a local gym in order to get some exercise. For a few years I’ve used a basic Kindle to read at the gym–it works better than a book or magazine on a treadmill or stationary bike (although it does not deter the old geezer gym rats who like to tell their life stories to women who are conveniently trapped on a machine for a specified amount of time. Of course books, no matter how big or imposing their titles, don’t seem to signal “I’m busy” to these guys either).

Anyhow I decided it might be cool to watch video or listen to music while on the treadmill as well, so I bought myself a bigger Kindle–the Fire HDX. Wow! Book covers in color! And I can watch movies and TV or listen to music from Amazon’s cloud or download it to my machine.  After playing with it for a couple of days I decided I needed a new set of headphones as well (my current set dates back to the last century). So yesterday I went over to my local goodies store.

A helpful salesperson was kind enough to hide her dismay at my ignorance and showed me how to sync my new headphones to the Kindle by means of Bluetooth–so cool, no wires. Just  to remain respectably low-tech I also bought a small CD player/FM tuner. The player/tuner in my big JVC rig, which I bought to celebrate my divorce back in 1981, gave up the ghost some years ago, and I’ve since been relying on my computer or my car to listen to music.  I set the new player up this morning, and viola!  I figured out how to synch it with the Kindle.  I also bought some new Bose speakers, so just now my house is reverberating with Clapton and Janis Joplin and of course B B King.

I am equipped, finally, to spend the hot months this summer safely indoors converting all my music (vinyl, audio tape, and CD) into MP3 format. This is necessary because much of the stuff I enjoy is either no longer available in any format, or it’s outrageously expensive–at least if Amazon is to be believed. For example, I still love The Chad Mitchell Trio, who I heard in concert while I was in college. Thanks to a good friend I have most of their stuff on audio tape–but that won’t last forever–nor will my JVC tape deck. Patsy Cline’s catalog is either not available or very expensive, as is classical music performed by artists I like–Van Cliburn playing Tchaikovsky’s First, for instance, or Andre Watts playing Rachmaninoff.  So I hope those bits of my collection can be salvaged via conversion as well.

Google tells me that “Bluetooth” was named for a tenth-century Viking king named Harald Bluetooth, who aimed to unite all parts of Sweden. It is known, and it is good.

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Bye, BB

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Rest in peace–you earned it.

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