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Captain's Blog

May 2002 | June 2002

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Captain's Blog - 1 June 2002

Another month has disappeared already? It's July? What happened to June? What happened to May? Heck, whatever happened to Christmas? Sigh.

At least I've got stuff done within these disappearing months of late. I've got a few new sites up online during June and I've discovered Anne Bishop. A day or two has brought reality back just a little there. Her Black Jewels trilogy isn't on a level previously untouched by anyone but it's up there with the best. I'm reminded of books like Clifford D Simak's Way Station or Zenna Henderson's People novels. There's an underlying theme of tolerance in all of these but they're handled in such different ways. All wonderful and all highly recommended.

Today's major discovery isn't a book but a drink. It's a strange concoction that I picked from Tesco this evening and it's happily staying lightly chilled on the outside of my skylight which currently lies horizontally. It's Tesco's own make and it's called a Banana & Toffee Dairy Smoothie. Quote: 'A delicious blend of bio yogurt, apple juice, banana and toffee.' I'm not arguing. It's more than delicious, it's almost the nectar of the gods. Certainly it's not something to drown in - it requires delicate sipping. Damn, I sound like an epicure.

Captain's Blog - 2 June 2002

Working through a compilation CD Dan put together highlights just how much our tastes in music varies. I grew up within the metal scene while keeping highly eclectic, while Dan's a clubber with a much more modern European taste. The music we both like tends to mix on the edges of genres rather than sharing any one in particular. All this we know but today we really highlighted it through our reactions to some of Dan's choices for the CD.

One of the tracks is the song that possibly sends more shivers down my spine every time I hear it than any other. It's Leonard Cohen's If It Be Your Will, a song that I, and many others, first heard as a short clip in the Christian Slater movie Pump Up the Volume. To me, the stark and beautiful music is powerful enough as it is, but Cohen's deep and sincere voice mingles with a beautifully melodic counterpart singing the same words and those words play with my heartstrings. It's a special song.

To Dan, it's a gorgeous song but nothing more. It doesn't touch him at all. The next song on the CD, however, does touch him in similar ways. It's Eminem's Stan which I find to be a very clever song that is highly listenable to. It doesn't do a damn thing else for me though. Sometimes I feel that the year and some between us is a generation.

Talking of music, dragging the mp3 directory from the fileserver into Winamp produced a playlist of 25,000 tracks. It looked very nice indeed... and there's another ten thousand plus to add in. It's going to be a really really Good Day when that drive is complete.

Captain's Blog - 3 June 2002

It's back to normal tomorrow for me. I'll be up a little earlier and out of the house a lot earlier with reading time on the train and talking time to twin on the wander through Manchester. It'll be refreshing to see people doubletaking to make sure I'm not talking to them. Oh, the fun you can have with mobile phone headsets. They do wonders for the hands in a cold climate too. Is mobile phone elbow a recognised condition yet?

It's been Eminem in the car today with The Eminem Show album that is thrashing allcomers on the Billboard Hot 100 week after week. It's triple platinum already, at least, and yet it's possibly the most bootlegged album of all time because of easily available mp3s on the net. It's almost as if people heard it, liked it and bought the CD! What a concept.

Here at home I'm back on Leonard Cohen. It's that contrast again, though there are still similarities. No, I'm not insane! Look at the lyrics. Eminem's Without Me must featuring the cleverest lyrics to grace a single at any point this year. Leonard Cohen is a poet with a unique touch. They may not sound anything like each other, in style or genre, but they are both superb lyricists.

I doubt Eminem can touch some of the lyrics on Cohen's Various Positions album that's gracing Winamp right now though:

Let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

'Show me slowly what I only know the limits of.' Others have written novels to say that much. Cohen fits it into one line...

Tests on the new UPS tomorrow. I've acquired it from obsolete stock collected by us from sites around the country. What may be obsolete for a national chain of hotels certainly isn't obsolete for my network which will benefit from a UPS joyously. It's a few days late of course, but just having it plugged in will prevent another power cut. That's Sod's Law in reverse.

Captain's Blog - 4 June 2002

There are rarely surprises in the news. It might be a new place for a war but it's still a war. It might be a new rabble of politicians but they're still politicians. It's a special day when there's a new twist to an old story. Today was a surprise.

Given the events of 9/11 (it still makes so much more sense to put the date before the month but 9/11 works so well as an irony) certain assumptions have to be made. There are certain things that will be just a little more difficult now than before.

That an Arab should enter the United States on a student visa suggests that he has more than a little guts knowing how much attention he'll immediately come under.

That this Arab should then head for Florida to obtain a place at a flight school starts to beggar belief.

That he wants to learn how to fly jumbo jets is almost insanity.

That he turns out to be Saddam Hussein's stepson... well, let's just say that a few law enforcement officers were probably a tad surprised.

That we find out about it on Colonial Liberation Day (erm, Independence Day) does seem to be more than a little strange, but then again security was at its utmost for the national holiday. Nonetheless one man managed to shoot a couple of people at the El Al counter at LAX. I remember the survey reported a few days ago that pointed out that Los Angeles was the most insecure airport in the country. It's reputation can only have gone down with this little incident.

And I'm going to fly into the States around 11th September? I must be nuts.

Captain's Blog - 5 June 2002

All this time I've been taking the Halifax-Huddersfield train I've been wondering if there was a quieter route anywhere. Sundays are usually busier than weekdays for some reason, though I still only share the carriages with a couple of fellow passengers. More than once I would have been entirely alone but for the driver and conductor. My own personal train. Can't be bad.

Well tonight was ever so slightly different and I managed to miss the start of it, thanks to being engrossed in Anne Bishop. Not Anne herself, pervert, but her book which is proving to me that she didn't use up all her talent on her initial trilogy. But more on that when I finish the thing. For now, the fight.

Yep, a fight. Six young gentlemen (for gentlemen, read trainee louts) had boarded at Huddersfield and were making their underage selves busy with bottles of beer. They were trying to pay half fare for being underage but the conductor wasn't having any of it. If they were old enough to drink, then they were old enough to pay full fare. Fare enough.

One stop down the line is Brighouse and on came another young gentlemen, but rather than being fifteen this one seemed more like thirty. He sat quietly as did the other three of us in the carriage while the six louts kept their noisy selves to themselves. Then, with no warning came an eruption of activity. No light, no cameras, just action.

I turned round to see this thirty year old in the midst of a scrum of bodies with bottles crashing against heads and fists flying. Somehow he managed to escape and ran down the train followed by insults and the bravado that comes with greater numbers. One of the youths was sluicing blood and had obviously been cut on the hand. Quite what started it all I don't know but it seems that the one went to the six, not the other way round. He must have balls the size of Saddam Hussein's stepson.

What surprised me more than anything was the reaction from the cut youth. While his injury probably came from one of his friends' bottles he found his way into a rage that seemed to find no outlet. We fellow travellers had to endure fifteen minutes of violent and profane rhetoric before we reached Halifax. As there was no way one conductor could keep six away from one I hung around until I knew he would be safe. I don't care whose fault it was or who started it, but six against one is not fair odds. What it all meant was another fifteen minutes of the same profanity to put up with.

His five mates had calmed down quickly enough and the instigator was calm too, but this kid just kept on and kept on. I've never seen someone in such a rage. If he couldn't find a way to calm down before the police arrived then I'm sure he would have been locked up himself.

I won't be on that train on Monday but I'll be back as a regular passenger on Tuesday. Any bets as to when next the calm gets shattered?

Captain's Blog - 6 June 2002

Another day, another subject. No violence today, folks. If that's what you're after, head on back to Loonie Tunes. Today's about books again. If you're upset at that, then take solace in the fact that I only have one more Anne Bishop to get through and then I'll stop raving.

The Invisible Ring is a novel set in the realms of the Black Jewels trilogy but is an entirely separate storyline. Bishop takes a walk-on role from the trilogy and fills in his story, and only he and Daemon Sadi share the honour of appearing in both the trilogy and the companion. Jared is the lead character and he finds himself on a bizarre road trip, unsure of exactly who he serves and why. He spends his time doing what must be done, and balancing his potential freedom with his honour.

I can't think of another instance offhand where a companion volume such as this is so different from the work it accompanies. The trilogy was all about prophecy and fulfilment, politics and manoeuvering, power and battle. The Invisible Ring is a coming of age story masquerading as a road trip. These are very different books but they share the same world, culture and sheer writing talent. Given the prices of books nowadays, there are very few authors I would monitor for new releases and pay full price to pick them up. Brian Lumley, Laurell Hamilton... Anne Bishop is now part of that list.

I picked up more books today. Other than Windows 2000 Server Architecture and Planning, which is most definitely a learning tool, the rest are entertainment pure and simple, non fiction included.

I love the series of books published by Senate and own many of them. I was very tempted to write to them at one point and ask for a discount if I bought the entire range, but I didn't quite succumb to the urge. Senate publish facsimile editions of non fiction works usually originally released roughly around the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th. There's a lot of mythological and anthropological work and plenty of oddities and they generally cost �5 for three which is hard to beat. My next Anne Bishop will cost more than that on its own, I'm sure.

Today I picked up The History and Lore of Freaks, Explorers of Australia and The Long White Cloud which could well be the most interesting of them all. It's a history of Ao Tea Roa, more commonly known as New Zealand, written by a Kiwi government minister in 1898, and it goes all the way back to the arrival of the Maoris from Eastern Polynesia. More soon for definite.

Pio Baroja is a name I hadn't heard before. He's a Basque writer of short stories (and quite possibly more) who was well regarded by some major names in the industry. Ernest Hemingway once wrote to him, 'Allow me to pay this small tribute to you who taught so much to those of us who wanted to be writers when we were young. I deplore the fact that you have not yet received a Nobel Prize, especially when it was given to so many who deserved it less, like me, who am only an adventurer.' Baroja simply replied, 'Caramba!' His short stories look intriguing and The Restlessness of Shanti Andia includes a few of them.

Diana L Paxson's Brisingamen is possibly notable only for my wondering whether or not she knows where she got the title. It isn't the sort of word that ought to appear particularly often so she's probably stolen it, subconsciously, from Alan Garner who had a wonderfully memorable Weirdstone there. Investigation soon, I promise.

And then comes The Dark Portal, book one of The Deptford Mice which bodes well to being something rather different. It seems to be a children's novel but is surprisingly long for such a creature suggesting that it may well function on multiple levels. C S Lewis set a lot of trends that way. This one concerns the mice of Deptford becoming involved with a dark presence in the sewers, worshipped by the rats as Jupiter, Lord of All. How mice cope in a 'doom-laden world of terror and sorcery' should be pretty intriguing stuff. I'm looking forward to it.

Now, which one first? After Anne Bishop, of course. Will I ever get round to Tanya Huff? Watch this space...

Captain's Blog - 7 June 2002

Which one first became Zenna Henderson's stories of the People. I've read these before, more than once, in The People Collection that brings both novels together with four short stories. They are the most poignant pieces of writing about difference that I've ever encountered and, no matter how often I read them, they still play fiddle on my heartstrings.

The People are a group of aliens whose planet is destroyed and whose escape ship crashes in rural Arizona. They have powers that we mere mortals don't have (levitation, telekinesis, mindreading) but they are entirely down to earth, caring folks. They hide because of the traditional violent reaction to anything different by the ignorant fearful. They hope for a time of tolerance.

Tolerance is the key to my personal philosophy, utter tolerance to extremes that most people don't accept, and maybe it's this personal code that draws Zenna Henderson's writing to me so closely. It sings to me. Truly Memorable without a doubt, and that goes for the lot. I experienced ('read' just doesn't cut it) Pilgrimage this morning and I'm onto The People: No Different Flesh now.

Not quite Truly Memorable but Anne Bishop's Pillars of the World isn't far off. For the first time in five books she leaves her Black Jewels universe and creates something afresh. This novel concerns Ari, a young witch, who is finding her place in the order of things; the Fae, a race who have moved apart from humans and whose world is disappearing; and Adolfo, Master Inquisitor, who has made it his life's work to utterly destroy the witches and the Fae both.

It's an entirely different approach for Anne Bishop but that plea for tolerance, so evident in the Black Jewels books, is still apparent here. What amazes most is that sympathy for characters is fluid, thus entirely violating the good guys/bad guys tradition. Here, people are absolutely what they seem, but any sympathy for them (or not) may change as their characters flesh out. It makes for some suspenseful writing and some harsh action. Maybe not a Truly Memorable but certainly a Highly Recommended, and I'm now on tenterhooks for the lady's next book.

Captain's Blog - 8 June 2002

I haven't sat and munched away on raw mussels since I was a kid. Maybe that's why I don't remember them being so damn good! Add to that the quite stupendous Ocean Cocktail and I'm wondering whether seafood is a good or bad idea in losing these few extra pounds. I could so easily glut myself on this stuff.

I keep on with the books but I'm neglecting music terribly lately. There's a stunning album by Mortiis called The Smell of Rain which I play frequently. It's a heavier Sisters of Mercy, coupled with some One Second era Paradise Lost and a hint of Enigma. Most of it is reasonably heavy but without going to extremes. There's also an atmospheric ballad called Everyone Leaves which could so easily have featured in many more counterculture Hollywood movies. Imagine Enigma backed by the Pixies singing Evaporation by Shriekback from the Manhunter soundtrack.

Also with dubious soundtrack connections, I've got hooked on Rosemary Clooney's Brazil. I'm still replaying the title track which I know well from the Terry Gilliam film of the same name which is one of my favourite films of all time. I thought she'd be oldstyle tacky but it's well worth hearing. This is supposed to be one of the great samba albums and, not having heard one, I thought it was about time I did. More soon, I'm sure.

Other than that I've been sampling through all sorts of diverse weirdness courtesy of emusic.com, one of the most worthy sites online. June Carter Cash, eminently qualified to sing country not just through being the wife of the Man in Black himself but by being one of the legendary Carter family. Press On is a very recent album and it won a Grammy which doesn't surprise me.

I've dabbled in the Sonic Youth Records compilation called Goodbye 20th Century which covers a variety of avant-garde classical material. The highlight for me so far in and amongst some music that seems unlistenable on the first attempt is an intense piece by James Tenney called Having Never Written a Note for Percussion. It reminded me of the Gyorgy Ligeti choral work featured in the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack. And yes, I still need to find some of that...

Captain's Blog - 9 June 2002

Sweet Dreams UK is finally moving again. This is our first online store and it is paving the way for a whole slew of other stores which will do wonders for our presence as a web company. We've been held up by many things along the way and it's been a real learning experience. The latest hurdle has now been overcome and I can get moving again with it.

This one was to do with the software we're using to manage the store wanting to run a configuration wizard. It checks the directories that it's going to install to, the location of perl, the various different settings that it needs to confirm for itself even after I've put them in manually. The problem was that it was checking all of this via ftp and connecting numerous times quickly to do it. The host we're using has a limit of five ftp sessions allowed per minute. After that it locks us out, only for a few seconds but for long enough to screw up the wizard.

It's taken most of a week to diagnose and get this limit temporarily lifted. Now it is and everything uploaded fine. Hopefully I can work on the graphic consistency and make sure everything is as it should be by Saturday, ready to get the secure transmission people involved to deal with moving money to the bank. Whoever said e-commerce was easy? It'll be easier once this is done, for sure.

Captain's Blog - 10 June 2002

I was happy to stay on at work for an hour today. No, I haven't become dedicated to the point of silliness; there is a table football table in a side office. I've never played a huge amount of table football but when I have played I tend to have won. That trend is not being followed at present.

To tie in with the last World Cup (no, not this one, the last one) in France, a local pub called the Bass House hosted a table football World Cup and I was happy to take part. I had played and beaten most of the competitors so felt I should do well, but I was expecting a hard fight against the landlord who was a very good player. Partway into the competition I discovered that one player was a ringer who had played for years in a table football league so I downgraded my expectations from losing finalist to semi finalist. As it turned out this ringer knocked out the landlord and I found an easy route to the final. Once there I took the guy apart and thrashed him in a succession of games. Yay me!

The prize was a case of beer, but being teetotal meant that the real prize was just the satisfaction of winning. Sadly I haven't played much since and that is really telling now. Eek.

I'm up against some solidly good players and I'm way out of practice. The table is in appalling condition too but that's as much a handicap against everyone else as me so can't be an excuse. I am slowly getting my game back and thus putting up better and better efforts. Soon I'll be a contendah again!

Then I got drenched to the bone walking back to the train station. Heck of a way to cool off. Sigh.

Captain's Blog - 11 June 2002

For those waiting for the Tanya Huff reports, tough luck. I sidetracked onto a Katharine Kerr science fiction novel called Polar City Blues which is proving to be rather intriguing.

Polar City is the capital of the Republic stuck between two massive stellar empires. Some notably well drawn characters (including a computer, in the best traditions of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) are trying to solve the murder of a noted diplomat from one of these empires before all political hell breaks loose. In the mix is a potential First Contact with a new race and a whole bunch of psi powers. What seems strangest is I'm a little way past halfway and I've just had what I was expecting to be the finale. Obviously Katharine Kerr has something major up her sleeve which is no doubt all to the good. More soon.

She's an established writer known best for her Deverry fantasy series which I've never read because it's never jumped out at me as something likely to be worth reading. I may well change my views on that when I finish Polar City Blues.

New in on the music front is a stack of CDs from Andy who is trying to save up for a DSL connection. I've already mp3d most of these off him anyway but it can't hurt to acquire legal copies if I can help him out in the process. Andy has a bizarre taste in music that tends to focus on 1980s glam metal and 1990s teeny bopper pop music, without much in between. Motley Crue and S Club Juniors don't make very good bedfellows.

It's a good selection. There's the first Van Halen album remastered, the greatest hits of the Georgia Satellites, live Poison, a couple of Jewel releases and an album I remember well from the 1980s: Lita Ford's Lita. Soon I'll listen to the whole thing but when I'm not back on Rosemary Clooney's Brazil I'm replaying Lita's Can't Catch Me and Blueberry. Now I have an original CD I can see that the former was co-written by Lemmy from Motorhead, which seems entirely logical, and the latter now has no words I can't make out. It's good to step back in time every now and again.

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