Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Future's So Bright...

Continuum 6 was fantastic.

I arrived home an hour or two ago, unpacked, had dinner, and I'm now writing this. As I go I'm digesting everything I learned over the weekend, and I think I'm deciding the future is something to be excited about rather than feared.

Sure, a healthy dose of respect is necessary, but I don't have to be scared. I have no idea what's going to happen - technology is not only becoming increasingly prevalent, it's becoming increasingly vital to living in the modern world. And as I get older I know it's going to become incredibly more difficult for me to keep up with advances.  Already the kids at my school are communicating, socialising, learning and living in ways that are alien to me.  What's it going to be like in 20 years time?

But there's so much exciting stuff happening. Mark Pesce, the guest of honour for the weekend, spoke about the coming technological singularity - and how it's going to affect us. (Of course he pointed out that we are now past the point of no return. Too late to run, folks!) And while I don't want to spend my life connected to an iSomethingorother, there's plenty of other good stuff there that will interest me.

And anyway, the end of the world may occur in 2012 and none of it will matter anymore.

p.s. More on Continuum 6 after I've had some sleep!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Somewhere, Under The Rainbow...

A couple of weeks ago, I hooked up with some friends to watch The Dark Side of the Rainbow. You know the one.  You watch the Wizard of Oz while listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and just enjoy the moments of coincidental synchronisation. I first saw this about 10 years ago at University - but some of my friends hadn't seen it so we threw it up on a big projected screen and ran the sound through a great system.

The DVD I was able to score had already been cued up with the music, and came with overlays showing the matching points of reference. OK, some of them are a real stretch - but when you see Dorothy reacting to sounds on the album, or watch the tornado dancing in time to The Great Gig in the Sky - it seems to be more than just a happy coincidence.

It was a lot of fun, but I came away with a few thoughts.  Firstly - The Wizard of Oz is a great film, and beautifully filmed. Whole scenes that are just stunning to watch. Secondly, The Dark Side of the Moon is a great sounding piece of art - even though it has been overplayed and overpraised for many years.  Return to it from time to time and check it out.  And thirdly - it is an album. Remember those?

Back when I was a kid, bands made albums - complete works that were meant to be listened to as a whole.  Yes, they often pulled singles from them, but generally the tracks had a unified theme or were planned to sit one after another. And I'm not necessarily referring to the great 'concept' albums, or the prog rock monstrosities of the 70s.

But in these days of the 30 second attention span, bands don't make and listeners don't seem to want more than one or two tracks. (Yes, I know this is a generalisation.) Many 'bands' (and I use the term loosely) these days are singles oriented. The kids I know at school tend to download their songs, or buy compilations, and generally aren't worried about having complete works.

I know, I know. It's a different world, a different time.  But I remember the first time I listened to Mountain's Nantucket Sleighride, for example, and was blown away by the whole thing. From beginning to end it was brilliant. Or Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick Would we have had this 43 minutes saga (yes, it's divided in two parts, but it is one song) in these times of two minute gratification? It wouldn't be financially viable for a band to record and release a beast like that.

But there are still bands around making albums. And I still take great delight in finding old gems that somehow I missed first time around.

Speaking of which, have you heard the new Lynyrd Skynyrd I'm listening to? It was released in 1976.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tell Me More, Tell Me More.

I'm always concerned when a guest speaker commences with the line, "Well, I'm actually here under false pretenses and you possibly know more about this than I do."

Happened to me on Friday at a seminar I attended in my role as a teacher.  I went along to this particular session hoping to gain an insight into a particular area of study I teach - instead I realised I'm doing fine with it, and that the presenter (who shouldn't have been presenting) is so outside my own experience that she wouldn't cope at my school.  Or while she may, at least her strategies wouldn't.

But one of the other sessions was worth the entry price.  The speaker knew his stuff, was deeply passionate about his work, and offered us valuable techniques and resources that I can certainly adapt and utilise in my own teaching.

Overall these training days that we attend seem mostly to be held for the sake of holding them.  And they aren't cheap either. But the VIT require us to attend a certain number of hours so we can be registered as teachers.  It's a shame that much money and time is wasted.

The muffins and lunch were good though.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nothing Really Changes...

Time passes so quickly, and some things never change.

As a student, 35 years ago, I was forced to attend the school swimming sports.  Now that I'm a teacher, I'm forced to attend the school swimming sports.  Only now I have responsibilities and duties.

Ah yes, the halcyon days of youth.  Late summer, sitting on the grass near the pool, watching all the athletic kids line up and take the races seriously. My friends and I would sit around, talking, eating snacks, discussing music and listening to lots of tunes on one of those 1970s cassette players.  Very cool, for the time.  I seem to recall lots of Beatles music, but that's just me and the kind of kids I hung around with.

And at the school swimming carnival a few days ago I saw pretty much the same behaviour from our students. Right down to the music. So OK, it's all digital now rather than cassettes, and it was more communal in those days.  The kids now have it on earphones on Mp3s - probably illegally downloaded - and their listening is an isolated experience.

But I was surprised, and rather pleasantly so, when I happened to hear a Beatles tune playing somewhere.  Love Me Do, I think it was. (I know it was - I just wanted to use a Bad Company reference)

Some things change, and we discuss whether it's for the better or not. But at heart kids are still kids - they're just trying to cope with a rapidly changing world.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

To Forgive Is Divine, But Revenge Is More Creative.

I've been thinking about karma again this week.

I know I wrote about it a couple of months ago, but certain things stay the same and certain people are rewarded for their lack of integrity. Is it fair? Absolutely not. Can I do anything about it?  Very little. Should I play the game others are playing?  I can't.

You see, something happened to me that I didn't deserve - and I found out later it was done deliberately by someone I knew.  And this someone is a person who is always friendly to me, smiles at me and chats to me.

OK, so I had moments where I had evil thoughts about this person and a large vat of boiling oil, but that's not healthy for me.  Instead I'm trying to let it go. My parents believe in the Bible, and they believe in forgiveness, and that's how they raised me. But they also believe that you reap what you sow. I'm pretty sure there's also something in that book about repaying good with good, and you'll be repaid fourfold by doing right. And if it ain't in there, it sounds like the sort of thing that should be.

Don't presume that forgiveness means forgetting.  Once bitten, twice shy and a bunch of other cliches.

Am I annoyed?  You bet.  But that's something I've got to get over - and at least I have some good people around me that think like I do.

Maybe my reward for this will come - maybe not.  But either way I know I can sleep at night, and I suspect I know a few people who can't.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is It Possible I'm Almost There?

I'm right on the cusp of something.  I can feel it. My writing is improving, I'm getting personal and positive critiques from editors (including at least two who are 'names') and the ideas for stories are really flowing at the moment.

School started two weeks ago and I'm right on top of my game there.  The classes I'm teaching are running smoothly and I know exactly where I'm going and what I'm doing. My writing has taken a back seat recently, but as of this week I'm back into it.  At least all my finished stories are currently out under submission.

I must admit to having been a little disappointed by a couple of my recent rejections.  They were close, so close - and even the editors said so. They liked the stories, but they weren't the usual sort of thing they publish. It's easy to say they should publish them anyway, but they know their markets - and at least two of them have asked me to send them more stuff. On the other hand the judges at WOTF don't seem to like my writing style at all.

Sigh.  It would be nice to get something in print - that would be really encouraging.  And with some of the other crap that's going on around me at the moment, some really good news like that would be the tonic.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Who's My Favourite New Kid On The Block?

I first heard of Bill Hicks back in about 1994.  A guy who later became one of my best friends told me about this chain-smoking, cursing comedian and described some of his routines for me.  A little later he gave me a copy of one of his videos.

At the time I was living in Japan, and, I think, the video had been taped from TV. I loved that tape.  I love the performer, and I loved what he had to say.  It was only later that I discovered he'd died a few months before I learned about him. Age 32, pancreatic cancer.

I've been watching, reading and listening to quite a bit of Bill recently - and even though his routines are around 20 years old they are still very relevant. Nothing has really changed, politics is still dirty, people are still lying and have double standards, Billy Ray Cyrus is still making money and has quite a bit of popularity.

I picked up the book, What Would Bill Hicks Say?, a series of rants from contributors who are attempting to channel Bill in order to describe the 21st century. Unfortunately, none of it sounds like Bill at all. I tried to imagine Bill with those rants - and while some of the phrases, the structures - heck, even the cuss words - are the same, they aren't what Bill would say at all. I don't know what Bill would say, but these rants just didn't have his voice.

I enjoyed the read - don't get me wrong, but it's a bit like Glenn A. Baker describing Crowded House as exactly what the Beatles would sound like if they were recording today. Um, No Glenn, they don't.

But what I got to thinking was this.  We need Bill Hicks around.  We need his rants, and we need his thoughts on Evolution. Unfortunately he was censored in his own time. Heck, even Letterman (a self proclaimed fan who had him on the show 11 times) censored him on the 12th spot - pulled his entire routine hours after recording.  And this was AFTER Dave's people had approved the script, told him he did a good job and mentioned him in the show's outro.

Of course he'd still be censored now, but we need him. Like we need Hunter S. Thompson (the Fear and Loathing guy, not the later self parody one).  And we need the old Rolling Stones.  And we need rock 'n' roll music to be dangerous again, and not something mothers take their kids to see.

A contemporary, Sam Kinison's gravestone says, In another age, he would have been called 'prophet'.  I think that epitaph suits Bill more.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Could We Have A Bit More Volume On This One, Charlie. It's Gonna Need It...

I've finally bought myself a small stereo unit for the study.

I've been meaning to get one for ages, but have just always prioritised other expenditures as more important.  Last week, however, I decided it was time, and with my trusty and faithful friend by my side we went and checked out all the Hi-Fi supermarkets and electrical retailers.

With our combined four ears we listened as salesmen played us demo discs and gave us facts and figures - most of which we ignored because I had a fair idea of size and sound I expected for my price range.

I don't need iPod docks, and MP3 players, or multidisc stackers, or flashing lights.  I do want some kind of tone controls, three ways speakers for a bit of dynamic range, and something that doesn't look like it was designed by the same people who design teenagers' sports shoes.

I finally found something I was happy with - a compact Panasonic with bass and treble controls and a great little sound for the unit.  This is just a small unit for my study - I'll save the big money for the bigger, better unit for the living room.

And so as I type this I have some music playing here at last, and my wife is happy too.

She doesn't have to listen to my 'crappy' music anymore.