Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Serial: "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" (54:17)

Courtesy Librivox.org / Archive.org

Friday, September 16, 2016

I recently managed to justify buying myself a set of Bluetooth earbuds. Ruining regular earbuds is a recurring feature of my life; I go nowhere without a music player, and usually I'm carrying another ten pounds of oddly-shaped crap besides, so I'm constantly pulling the wires out of the drivers, or breaking the cord at the plug, or God forbid busting the actual headphone jack on the player with a hard enough hit. I'm trying to be smarter-slash-less desperate with money, and testing out this whole theory that if you wait a little longer and pay twice as much, you'll have to replace the damn things less than half as often. I've bought so many sets of cheap earbuds at CVS that I ought to have a buy-10-get-one punch card for them, so all I need the expensive set to do is last more than a few months, and I'm way ahead.

The first set I tried were terrible -- returned with extreme prejudice the very next day, on the grounds that you have to be trying to make earbuds that sound that bad -- but the second try were acesori A.Buds, which I've kept. I don't know if they're swank enough to be worth the $59.95 they seem to be going for on Amazon, but I'd rate them worth the $29.95 I paid at Microcenter. The low-end response is good enough I actually turned off the bass boost. They get about five hours of listening time on an hour of charge, and do go to sleep automatically if you turn off the music and forget about them for a while.

You ever have a small annoyance that you didn't realize was a major problem until you accidentally solved it? Maybe that's just me. I routinely don't notice how much stuff hurts until I remember to take more Aleve and it stops. I bought the wireless earbuds because the wires are the parts I keep breaking, and I hoped that not having any would keep me from destroying this set. So far, so good, on that. I just didn't really grasp how much time and brain power I was spending juggling things in three-dimensional space and untying knots until I didn't have to do it anymore.

This is particularly noticeable when I rehearse at home. I turn the music up very very loud when I dance, and I don't think the neighbors need to be treated to the eclectic mix of Placebo, Indila, and girl group K-pop on my playlist right now, so I use portable players. I actually prefer headphones/earbuds to open-air audio, unless I can turn it up to levels that contravene noise regulations. Because of the way stereo encoding works on the engineering end, and the way stereolocation works on the brain end, stereo sound from two sources generally seems as though it's coming from some point on a plane which intersects both speakers and is oriented such that [distance from left speaker to listener] + [distance from right speaker to listener] is a constant sum.

You can pan things around the field pretty well even with only two speakers, and I've heard it done in audio dramas, but in music, stereo mixes are generally rigged to sound as if they're coming from a 'stage' at about speaker-distance away, directed towards an 'audience' in whatever direction the speakers are pointed.

[Admittedly, you can screw with this if you try. If you place a sound in the field directly at the midpoint between the two speakers and then shift the signal on one side by half a wave, you get what's called out of phase stereo. This doesn't happen in nature, and makes the sound psychoacoustically unlocatable in space. It comes from everywhere and nowhere. The effect is prominent and eerie under headphones, vague at best in open air stereo, and collapsing the signal into mono makes whatever was in the center channel vanish. Pop vocals are usually mixed center, so OOPS is used a lot to cheat karaoke tracks.]

In the open air, this means the music appears to come from the stereo. Under headphones, this puts the source of the audio inside your head, which makes it much easier for me to ignore distractions coming from outside my skull. With earbuds, if they're sealed well and you're liberal with the volume control, you can get some of it to come in via bone conduction, the same way you hear your own voice. That's overwhelmingly effective. The universe is music, at least until the batteries run out.

The problem is that I work with props like hoops and fan veils and now a cane-handled brolly, which require both hands and grab loose cords. Feel free to imagine the hilarity and swearing that happens when these things interact badly. It's no picnic to juggle this stuff on the train on the way to the studio either, when I've also got a tote bag.

I can use the phone and regular earbuds, but the cords have to stay very close to my body, which in practice means I stuff everything in my cleavage. It'll stay, but it gets sweaty and gross, and I have to get creative about feeding wires down behind my head and into my shirt, or I can't leave enough loose cord to move my head around without also leaving enough to catch on stuff. I also have a pair of cheap studio 'phones that I've kludged up into a wireless player by wrapping the cord around the headband and pinning one of my retired Sansa Clip+s to it; no wires there, but it's aggravatingly easy to knock them off with the slightest bump from anything, or just swinging my head around too fast.

Bluetooth earbuds attach to nothing but each other.These sit inside my ear canal, wedged in with silicone tips. (They come with optional hooks, but I find them more trouble than they're worth.) Wind the cord around my ponytail a couple of times, add a bobby pin for security, and they really don't go anywhere, no matter what I do. I have magic earplugs that block out noises by making other noises. They're like a Thermos, keeping hot things hot and cold things cold. How do they know!?

The downside is that now I can get partway out of the house before I realize I've left my phone charging on the bed. Class II Bluetooth devices have a theoretical range of about 10m; walls and metal door and window screens cut it down considerably, but I have the front bedroom, so even a 15' radius gets me well into the stairwell before the audio stutters. Whoops.

They play nicely with the computer, too. I might have onboard Bluetooth, but I have no idea and the model number sticker has long since worn off the bottom. I contemplated pawing through Device Manager and maybe cracking the case to see if I could find a Googleable number or just the Bluetooth chipset itself, and then looking up the incantations necessary to convince Windows that it was there, and decided it would be a better use of my time to go give Microcenter another $10 for a USB dongle. The two devices will 'steal' the earbuds from each other, but life is simplest if I just don't activate them both at the same time -- turn the phone Bluetooth off before opening up the laptop, close the laptop before turning the phone Bluetooth back on. Which also forces me to close the damn computer every once in a while, a thing I otherwise don't bother to do.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I was asked a while ago to read through a book by Catherine Hakim, called Erotic Capital: The Power In The Boardroom And The Bedroom. The library finally coughed it up, so I did.

tl;dr: Hakim's thesis is interesting and absolutely deserves an entire book of analysis. She didn't bother to write one. The book is bullshit and you will just throw it at the wall.

The review inquiry came to me from one of my readers, on the grounds that I've worked in an industry where attractiveness, specifically conformist femininity, is an asset. So you are all absolutely clear where I am coming from, this is me (NSFW, if your work is hostile to cleavage):

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Internet back, back at work, back at the studio, doing a thousand things at once! As always. I did discover I can get /r/UnresolvedMysteries loaded on the Kindle, which basically means I will never look up at anything on the train again.

Circlet Press has a Patreon campaign running, I still have a Patreon campaign running, I am applying for a zillion artistic grants because if there's one thing I actually have now it's a body of (blogging) work to prove I am indeed a writer. If anyone knows of any programs or venues looking for a non-fiction essayist, send 'em my way.

More stuff later. Allons-y.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Comcast are wankers. We have the modem, it works, and we can see their network. but they are telling us they cannot turn on the actual internet until the "beginning of the billing cycle", whenever the fuck that is. They're lying about that -- I've gotten it done before -- and we all know it. I suggested the roommate handling the internet bill call Comcast back and sing The Song That Doesn't End, or anything else Shari Lewis and Lambchop ever did, until they give him a manager.

In the meantime, I am forced to work at the library, for an annoyingly useless definition of "work". Their federal funding requires them to lock me out of the erotica site I am technically helping to manage, so I cannot actually do much of anything online. It's also forcing me onto the exact business hours schedule that is the reason I do not have a regular office job, so this has to stop sometime very soon.

PayPal also has not bothered to pull their thumbs out, so the payment that was sent to me Thursday evening still has not shown up on my end. Payments directly out of a bank account via PayPal are sent as eChecks, which makes PayPal spontaneously decide it is a bank after all, and sit on the money for some random amount of time. Which is probably going to be "until Tuesday", because it's a holiday weekend in the US. Not that this matters when you HAVE NO STOREFRONT OR BUSINESS HOURS. PAYPAL.

I have 96¢ in my checking account, which is NOT AN OVERDRAFT, so the bank is leaving me alone. There are groceries at home, because one of my friends took pity on us and sent some over via Peapod, but I still can't feed myself while I'm out at the library, not getting any real work done but at least not feeling cut off from the entire outside world, and I can't take my turn at ordering the pizza when we're too tired of moving shit to cook. That's fun. I can remember a time when this would utterly freak me out, but these days I just figure on starving until The Man decides to give me my fucking money. I won't die. (I drink a lot of lemonade and vitamin water. Actual juice is out of my price range.) It's not really an improvement, I suppose, but it lets me feel like something is going to plan.

[To be perfectly honest, I kind of desperately want a lot of dissociatives right now. I moved a bunch of very heavy shit across the city about a week ago, and I've been out of naproxen and DXM for quite some time. In parallel to the groceries thing, my game plan was basically just to continue hurting until I can buy more. So far so good. Drugs don't play well with empty stomachs, anyway, and I obviously don't have the money for them right now. Practicality ruins so many otherwise appealing plans.]

The new place is pretty. I have a room that now contains two wardrobes, a standing clothing rack, and a bed, and I can still use a hula hoop in it. We're half a mile inland, if that. The neighborhood smells of ocean when the wind comes in from the east. My roommates both grew up in New England somewhere, so I think for them "oh, coastline, nice" is pretty much their only thought, if they happen to notice. I foresee me spending a lot of my worse nights staring out my front window at the tiny sliver of Dorchester Bay visible over the trees and houses. Every time the breeze comes in, the rats all stick their little noses straight up to catch it, probably dreaming of seaweed and fish.

Speaking of fish, we now have a truly bitchin' 90 gallon aquarium in the living room. Jazmin and her boyfriend hauled it up the stairs last night. He inherited some fish from his last place -- by which I mean his drunken recidivist ex-roommate wasn't feeding them, so he decided they would henceforth belong to someone who wouldn't neglect them to death -- and it turns out that literally everything the aforementioned roommate told him after "these are fish" was wrong.

[I don't use real names for non-celebrity people here, so Jazmin's boyfriend is henceforth going to be Tom. I want to keep subliminally reminding the two of them that they should go to Arisia dressed as Sarah Jane Smith and the Fourth Doctor. If you saw them, you'd know why. Jazmin is little and dark-haired and feisty, whereas I have been known to refer to Tom as "the shaven Wookiee", and he has cleverly min-maxed himself by draining his WIS down to base stats and pouring all the extra points into INT. Great guy, and technically-automotively-mechanically brilliant, but prone to AWESOME IDEAS! that immediately deflate when someone points out tiny flaws, like that they contravene the laws of physics, or whatever. Sometimes they don't deflate, and he somehow makes them work anyway. How he has survived into adulthood, I do not know.]

The fish in question turned out to be Jack Dempseys. They're very pretty, but they're eventually going to get 8-10" long, and they get territorial. Plainly they were not going to fit in the 30 gallon tank they came in. Also one of them appears to be female. A few days after Tom bought them some black volcanic gravel and more tchotchkes, he found out that they like to spawn in hidey-holes over dark substrates, which means he had just inadvertently set up a love hotel for cichlids, and was maybe about to get into the fish breeding business whether he wanted to or not. He also somehow ended up with a fourth Jack Dempsey from the chucklefuck who sold him the big tank, and he is praying that 1) it lives, and 2) it's not another male.

The cichlids are all still kind of wary of the new giant-sized habitat. The pleco is having the time of its life. It was waddle-swimming all over the place last night, slobbering at the acrylic in exactly the same food-seeking "pattern" as a rat who has been let loose on a floor full of spilled Cheerios. There's food over here! And over here! And in this corner! THERE IS FOOD EVERYWHERE I NEED TO GO IN ALL THE DIRECTIONS AT ONCE. It is a happy little ratfish right now, and probably forevermore.

Saturday Serial: "The Five Orange Pips"

"The Five Orange Pips" (41:19)

Courtesy Librivox.org / Archive.org

Friday, September 2, 2016

My birthday is a week from today. Being born on 9/9 has earned me a lifetime of gift-wrapped school supplies and funny looks from numerologists, as well as the one-time prize of going to college when I was still a minor. I had to wrestle every last piece of my university paperwork away from my mother. She couldn't be arsed to sign permission slips or homework sheets while I was in public school, but she attempted to hoard everything the university sent me.

I'll be thirty-five this year. I've already outlived both Janis Joplin and Jesus. Frankly, I dunno where to go from here.

I do not request birthday gifts. For a long time, I actively tried to avoid them by refusing to give suggestions even when asked. This lasted until one college friend informed me that if I did not point and ook at a book or comic or CD or something, she was going to go down to Wal-Mart and buy me a giant pink lawn flamingo. If you have the uncontrollable urge to buy me a thing, my Amazon Wish List is here.

Mainly, however, what I want is an audience. Someone linked to something of mine somewhere a few weeks ago, and my traffic quadrupled overnight. It is still not very impressive by professional blog standards, but it does appear to be real people. It's all from Google/Facebook and a few personal blogs and feed readers, rather than four hits from Facebook Mobile and another five hundred from an SEO vampire in Kazakhstan, it's about 95% from Anglophone regions, and it consistently occurs only on entries of real content, and not my Saturday Serial time fillers.

Since writing appears to be my only skill that is both marketable and reputable, I am trying really fucking hard to make some money from it. To find people who want to pay for my work, I need a lot of people to look at my work, so the ones with cash and motivation can self-select. So if you like something, LINK IT somewhere. Show other people! Pimp my blog!

In the unlikely event that you have no acquaintances at all, everyone you know is illiterate, or you are somehow reading this in a way that does not involve the internet, I will also accept pictures of cats and pretty men. They're not as economically viable, but it does give me something to look at while I fill out a million grant and residency applications.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

We've finished moving. We all survived. Three humans, four common agouti-coated Rattus norvegicus, four colorful cichlids, and one bottom-feeder called a "pleco" which I'm told is actually some kind of catfish, but which is functionally a small armored Roomba.

(I don't have any clue how to deal with fish. You can't pet things in a water tank, and you don't spoil fish by feeding them, so I'm out of ideas. My introduction to the pleco was walking into the living room one day to find it smashed belly-first against the front pane of the aquarium, eschewing dignity of any kind, licking frantically at some invisible food molecules on the glass. Ah, I thought. It's an underwater rat. I know scavenger behavior when I see it.)

Every time I move, someone, generally a middle-aged white person, reacts to my new place like I've just arranged to rent a room in Mos Eisley. I haven't spoken to my own parents in something over five years now, so this time around the role was filled by Jazmin's mother, who spent yesterday evening alternating between being impressed by the woodwork and furniture the previous owners left us, and inventing scenarios in which the lock on the door to the back stairs proved wholly inadequate. (The back stairs are accessible only from inside the house. The only other inhabitants are two elderly women on the ground floor. We made vague noises about calling the landlord about it, which we are absolutely not going to do.) We got a dire warning about not going to the nearby park at night that was almost word for word what I got from my mother when I moved into the dorms at college about not going down to the student union -- a building that was not even 500 feet away from my dorm, visible from my window, abutted a parking lot regularly patrolled by the campus cops, and moreover had an emergency phone on a big blue pillar directly between me and it -- for dinner after dark.

I am not entirely sure whether the root problem here is that the neighborhood is full of people who are not white, or that the neighborhood is full of people who are not rich. As far as I can tell, the neighborhood is just full of people. Most of the catastrophizing, surprisingly, seems to come from the women of my mother's age, particularly those who have only daughters. I can't help but wonder if there is something weird coming out of the collision between being the first generation of women who were not just allowed (or encouraged!) to live on their own without the protection of fathers or husbands, but still got their ideas about 'staying safe' from a generation who considered women weak and vulnerable by nature.

I cringe when I see how much of that they have made a special effort to pass down to my generation. I understand the loudest people in a movement are often the least sane, and that all bad things are scarier when they happen to someone who seems a lot like you, but there are a lot of young women walking around convinced that they might be raped and murdered at any moment, and live their lives in terror accordingly. Technically, this is true -- horrible things can happen without warning. The thing is, the risk of horrible events has always existed. Convincing people that they can eliminate 100% of the risk of horribleness if they just take control and do something is disingenuous at best, and life-ruining at worst. Think anorexics, who believe their lives will be perfect if they can just control their appetite. Agoraphobes who control their terror of the outside world by refusing to go out into it. Domestic abuse victims who think they can avoid being hit again if they just behave right.

I'm not saying don't ever try to change society for the better. But insisting you have control over everything in your life, when you very pointedly don't, will drive you fucking crazy.

Terrible things happen in pasty white suburbs, too, I promise. They're just different terrible things that don't show up on crime maps. I would personally consider many of them worse, because a lot of them by their very nature can really only be properly done by people who swear blind that they love you and want to keep you safe. Sucks when someone steals your stuff, but sucks more when your entire life is hemmed in by random terror of anything seen as 'abnormal'. I grew up in the most blandly mayonnaise-y Wonder Bread suburb you ever saw, and I specifically hate living in places like that, because I have swum in that tepid pool of homogeneity, and it produces some of the most indescribably intolerant xenophobic asshole behavior you have ever seen. You look like them, they assume you think like them, and when it turns out you don't, they try to punish you right back into the fold.

I would much rather live in a building of illegal immigrants who don't speak English. People who don't speak your language and are afraid of attracting any kind of attention at all just avoid the hell out of you. The ladies in abayya and headscarves whose evening walks take them right under my window are not bothering anyone. The only time I've ever had anyone unauthorized try to get into my home was in Brighton, by far the WASPiest area I've lived in Massachusetts, and it was a goddamn Realtor who either didn't know the unit was occupied or didn't care, trying to show the place to prospective tenants.

Places like East Somerville and Dorchester may well have been hellholes back when I was born. I really have no idea. According to crime statistics, everywhere was terrible in comparison to now -- since we quit putting tetraethyl lead into gasoline, the rates of violent shithead behavior have rolled rapidly downhill, and now in most towns you actually have to sort of hunt around for a slum apartment where the local crackheads might stab you in your sleep.