Monthly Archives: September 2009

I Never Knew Carl Sagan

I never really noticed Carl Sagan until after his death. Part of that was due to how I backed slowly into science. My childhood may have been filled with Asimov’s books and the spectacles of Star Wars and Star Trek, but I hadn’t given much thought to becoming an honest-to-goodness scientist. In high school, after visiting our school’s guidance counselor, I told a friend, “I looked at the list of jobs and aerospace engineer sounded cool.” He looked at me and said, “Huh, I’d have thought you were more interested in something fundamental like physics.” Andrew was right, and though I doubt he even remembers telling me that, his words were what set me on my science path, not the writing or TV appearances of the man in the turtleneck and buff jacket.

I didn’t watch Cosmos. I didn’t read The Demon-Haunted World or even Contact. I knew of him, of course, but didn’t pay much attention to him. In 1996, when I heard he’d died, I was sad for those I knew whose lives he’d touched.

As the years have passed, though, I’ve become a belated fan. As I’ve dabbled more and more with popularizing aspects of science, I’ve come to appreciate his uncanny knack for explaining the wonder of science. As I have become more enamored of the wonder of science, I’ve fallen in love with how Sagan made even the most complex and gigantic concepts understandable.

So when I saw the above video last week, I stared raptly at it and played it over and over. The autotuning of Sagan is geeky and awkward, and emphasizes how he could sound like Kermit the Frog, and yet it captures his enthusiasm, his wonder, and his optimism. And that’s a damn fine thing.

Visualizing Music

How do you visualize music? Can you turn an auditory experience into a visual one? Scores are one way of doing just that.

An example orchestral score

While a score requires training to read fully, you can follow along when it’s paired with the music. That was part of the allure of early computer music programs like the Music Construction Set.

In terms of representing music visually, many people default to the conventions of a score: higher pitches are higher on the paper, with each instrument getting its own line. Even projects like A Bicycle Built for Two Thousand (which is possibly the creepiest rendition of “Daisy Bell” ever) follow that convention.

Scores represent each note individually, but they don’t capture the timbre of the separate instruments. Instead, they merely name what instruments are to be played, with similar instruments’ staves grouped together. Anita Lillie created visual representations that are like a score, but with timbre to color, producing some neat videos in the process.

What if we move away from trying to capture the individual notes and instead try to represent larger components of a song? The band Pomplamoose videotapes themselves recording their multitracked songs and assembles the footage into a single video. The result is a visual representation of the song’s layers. For instance, you see Nataly Dawn acting as her own backup singers. Their visual representation is organized around each track in a song.

Lasse Gjertsen’s “Amateur” is similar in spirit, with one notable exception: he videotaped himself playing each drum hit and piano note separately, then sliced that video up and combined it into a new song. It’s a hybrid between the traditional score and what Pomplamoose is doing, since Gjertsen’s video is presenting each individual note or event as it happens, but constructed from separate events instead of a continuous performance.

Then there’s Kutiman. For “Thru You”, he assembled his songs from pre-existing YouTube clips rather than composing a song and then videotaping himself or others playing it. The separate video clips are a visual representation of the building blocks he’s used to create his bricolage.

Finally, consider Girl Talk’s mashup album “Feed The Animals”. Gregg Gillis used samples like instruments, layering them on top of each other to create a new composition. Soon after the album’s release, fans created music videos compiled from those of Gillis’s source samples.

Given my love of visual representation, it’s no surprise that this topic fascinates me. Part of it is the whole “dancing about architecture” problem: it’s hard to translate an experience from one sense to another. That’s why, when it’s done well, I find it especially rewarding.

Hobbit 419

Dear MR BAGGINS, Fellow Conspirator,

I am Thorin Oakenshield, descendant of Thrain the Old and grandson of Thror who was King under the Mountain. I am writing you to discuss our plans, our ways, means, policy and devices for rescuing our treasure from the dragon Smaug.

During the reign of Thror our kingdom was a prosperous one. Kings used to send for our smiths, and reward even the least skillful most richly. Fathers would beg us to take their sons as apprentices, and pay us handsomely, especially in food-supplies, which we never bothered to grow or find for ourselves. Altogether those were good days for us, and the poorest of us had money to spend and to lend, and leisure to make beautiful things just for the fun of it, not to speak of the most marvellous and magical toys, the like of which is not to be found in the world now-a-days.

Undoubtedly that was what brought the dragon. Dragons steal gold and jewels from men and elves and dwarves, wherever they can find them; and they guard their plunder as long as they live (which is practically for ever, unless they are killed), and never enjoy a brass ring of it. There was a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm called Smaug. One day he flew up into the air and came south. The dragon settled on our mountain in a spout of flame and routed out all the halls, and lanes, and tunnels, alleys, cellars, mansions and passages. After there were no dwarves left alive inside the mountain he took all their wealth for himself.

In view of this, I received your contact through a friend and counselor, an ingenious wizard, who noted you as a Burglar who wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward. And I and my twelve companions have agreed to give you 10% of the total gold and jewels that the dragon Smaug now rests upon if you can join us on our long journey. When you have agreed please tell us the place where you dwell and send one hundred pence so that we might travel to you.

Please hold what I have told you in strict confidence and I look forward to your earliest response.


Regencies and Revenants

For a Dragon*ConTV bumper this year, I made up names of books that might follow “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. I had “Beowerewolf”, “Grave Expectations”, “Vampire Fair”, “Jude the Undead”, and “Northanger Abbey But This Time Catherine Starts Fires With Her Mind”, among others. I’d thought I’d covered the waterfront.

Then I saw the announcement from Publishers Lunch.

Sarah Gray’s WUTHERING BITES, a retelling of Wuthering Heights in which Heathcliff is a vampire, to John Scognamiglio at Kensington, in a very nice deal, for publication in September 2010, by Evan Marshall at Evan Marshall Agency (World).

Real life is so often funnier than I can ever hope to be.

From Corinth to Cairo

Today I started wondering how long it’d take me to walk from Corinth to Cairo.

A map showing Corinth and Cairo, Mississippi

100 miles? That’d only take me a couple of days! Thanks, Mississippi!

This post has been brought to you by the US’s habit of naming cities after other cities. Because Paris, Arkansas wasn’t going to come up with anything better.

Etsy Sneak Peek

Yes, I’ve been working on Etsy shop stuff but I’ve also been taking care of other things. How is that whenever I decide to embark on something kinda big the whole rest of my life decides to be busy and awesome and crazy and full at the same time?

The kids both have colds this weekend so we’ve been quarantined at home to keep from being contagious. I’ve spent the past 10 days reading the Sookie Stackhouse books (Gigantic thanks to Megan for having them all including the last one that she’d checked out from the library and loaned me!) I’ve also been working on Ladies’ Bible Study at my church that I am leading this semester (gulp!) and I’ve had to work pretty diligently to stay one tiny step ahead of the bright ladies in my class.

But for those of you who might be curious, here’s a photo of my notebooks that I’ve been working on:
Finished on the left. Unfinished on the right.
The sheep notebook on the left stack is already spoken for but the rest will be up in my shop shortly.

Suburban Fantasy

His roar, even from the garage, shook the walls of the bedroom where I was busily ironing ruffled shirts. The outside door slammed open, adding to the collection of dents in the wall, and Javier Rodriguez de Orbaneja stalked in. I glanced up at him, then away. It’s never a good idea to lock eyes with an alpha creature, even one I was married to.

“Where is it?” he asked, the click of his fangs punctuating his question.

“Where’s what?”

“Do not toy with me, Kym. My pegboard.” He was suddenly behind me. I’d never seen him move. He had to be upset; Javier knew how much it bothered me when he did that. “I had a second piece prepared for my tools, and now when I prepare to attach it to the wall, I find that it is missing.”

I breathed in his scent, a twinned smell of fabric softener from his clothes and mahogany from his coffin that still lingered on his skin. “I haven’t seen it.” I ducked under the ironing board and walked into the garage.

He was already there. “Dear, you know I don’t like you moving faster than I can see.”

He wasn’t listening. Javier had lifted one pale hand to point, finger trembling, at the garage wall. “You see? The first piece is complete, lacking only its mate.” The hanging piece of pegboard was immaculate, with outlines for all of his tools. It reminded me of a crime scene, tape marking the spot where corpses had fallen. I was all too familiar with those scenes.

“I expect you loaned it to Arkas.”

Javier growled softly. I watched the fluorescent light play along the angular planes of his face. “Child, I would remember had I done that.”

It was my turn to growl. “Look, you may remember fighting the Grande Armée, but you have trouble remembering what we had for dinner yesterday morning.” First he pulled his his Road Runner tricks, then he reminded me of the three centuries that separated our dates of birth.

“Roast duck and pinot noir, and my usual glass of blood.” He ran his hand through his shock of pale white hair. “Mi amor, I am sorry. You are correct.”

I hugged him tight, feeling the heat leech slowly out of me as I did. “It’s not the pegboard that’s bothering you.”

“It’s not the pegboard,” he agreed.

I held him tighter. “You knew this would be an adjustment.”

“I know. But I miss it so!” The arm he had wrapped around me flung wide, gesturing dramatically. “The city! How could we leave it! The nightlife! The parties!”

“The crime. The late-night calls from the police.” I toyed with the blackout curtains covering the garage windows.

“I shall never have that pegboard back from Arkas, even were I to press the matter. If I offend him, he might retaliate.” Arkas and his wife, a dryad named Erato, were some of the newly-public Greek figures of myth. They had been hiding from mortals for thousands of years, only now revealing their existence as more and more supernatural creatures revealed themselves. One of Arkas’s neighbors had made fun of Erato’s oak tree, so Arkas convinced Demeter to fill that neighbor’s yard with kudzu.

I shivered, not liking where the conversation had wandered. “We can get another.”

“Just so.” Javier paused and sniffed. “What, pray tell, is that ungodly smell?”

“Oh, crap.” I banged open the door to the house and ran back into the bedroom, yanking the iron off of the now-burnt shirt. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap.”

Javier picked up his shirt, admiring how it shaded from its original pearl white to brown. The ruffles on the front were especially burnt. “This would certainly be a new look for me.”

“Crap. Four years of college and I still can’t iron shirts.”

“You did not study home economics, you studied forensics.” He held his shirt up against him, as if he might actually wear it.

“Whose fault was that?” I’d wanted to drop out of college, but Javier wouldn’t let me. Even before we were married he bossed me around. I supposed he was right. If I ever had to get a normal job with a police department, the degree would help. But, really, what does a girl who can talk to ghosts need a forensics degree for?

“Knock, knock!” Philip stuck his shaggy head in our front door. “Hey, Kym. Hey, Roddy. You guys ready?”

Javier tensed. One alpha male was bad enough, but having two in the same room could be deadly. Philip had always been very determined, a useful trait in a professional assassin, but now that he was a child of Lycaon, he was more alpha than ever. Unfortunately being a werewolf meant that he no longer had good control of his emotions. He’d had to give up being an assassin and fall back on his earlier training as an accountant.

“To what do you refer?” Javier asked. I could have chilled wine with his tone.

“Boys, boys, settle down.” I stepped between them, making sure not to meet either of their eyes. Philip had never taken it well that I had chosen Javier over him. “I’m sure Philip was making sure we were coming to the homeowners association meeting tonight.”

“It’s going to be a doozy.” Philip’s grin revealed his strong white teeth. “Haven’t you heard? They want to pass an ordnance to keep people from covering any windows that face the street. The better for property values, they say.”

“They can’t!” I said, as Javier said, “Mierda.”

“They can and they will. Better get a move on.”

I was already in motion. Ten seconds later I had my go-bag in one hand and a scratched book in the other. I’d laughed at Javier when he gave me the homeowners association bylaws. The leather-bound volume seemed ridiculously over-the-top for a collection of rules and regulations. But after last year’s battle over allowable shades of house paint had come to blows and the book had stopped a neighbor’s claw from going through my chest, I stopped scoffing at Javier’s gift. “Let’s go.”

Javier took my hand and squeezed it. He stared, seeing some ancient bit of history unfurling in his mind. “There’s always another battle, eh, mi amor?”

“Don’t worry.” I hefted my bag, listening to the stakes, holy water, and back copies of the Skeptic Magazine jostling together. “We’re ready for this one.”

I had no idea how wrong I was.

–from my forthcoming book, “Subdivisions and Succubi”.

Rules I Never Expected to Make

“We’re going to the gardens, but don’t roll around in the sand.”

“Noodles go in your mouth, but your plastic snake doesn’t.”

“No shrieking while dad’s on the phone.”

“Sure, grab some pretzels from the pantry while we sleep in.”

“If you’re going to squash your sister, do it gently.”

“Get off the couch with your peanut butter hands!”

“Don’t wake us up from our nap, just go play on the computer.”

“Don’t carry the dog ball around in your mouth.”

“Dad’s underwear doesn’t go on your head.”

“Please, just let me go to the bathroom by myself.”

The joys of parenthood are often countless.

I’ve Been Cosplayed

You may remember that, two years ago during Dragon*Con, I spontaneously ended up on stage leading the audience in singing Re Your Brains. At the time I described it as the most surreal moment I’d experienced.

It’s been trumped: this year I was cosplayed. Check this business out.

Two people cosplaying from our Code Monkey video

These two strolled into my space panel on the Pioneer Effect and what’s wrong with gravity, a panel that went so well that I distilled the experience down and am selling it as awesomesauce. I mainly noticed the fellow on the right, because he was wearing the same mask as we used in our Code Monkey video. “Huh,” I thought, “that’s a weird coincidence.”

After the panel they approached me. “We loved the Code Monkey video!” they said. “Since we’re dressed like in the video, can we get our picture with you?” I said yes, and only belatedly realized that the guy on the left is supposed to be me in the video. That is both fabulous and spooky.

The other bit that left me rather shaken came as part of the Dragon*Con Late Show. In a new-this-year segment, every morning at 9 AM, Brian Richardson, Ally Pelphrey and I went through new schedule changes and recommended stuff to see during the day. It was a live show that was broadcast throughout all four convention host hotels.

Picture of the Dragon*Con Late Show, copyright 2009 Derek DeWeese

(Photo copyright 2009 Derek DeWeese)

It was being broadcast live, so we had to do the show on the stage in the Hyatt’s big Centennial ballroom, the only room with a live TV feed available. We’d never done this before, so Friday morning was our first chance to see how it went. No sweat, I thought. We were recording an hour before the first panel, and who shows up for a 10 AM panel on Friday morning?

The crowd in Centennial, who were not waiting to see us, I assure you

(Photo copyright 2009 Derek DeWeese)

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were on the 10 AM panel. We got to do our first ever live show in front of 1,500 people who were most assuredly not there to see my Shatner impersonation. It went well, but I don’t think I stopped shaking from the adrenaline for thirty minutes afterward. If you’re having trouble waking up, I recommend the experience to fix that for you.

Misty and I survived Dragon*Con 2009, and indeed had a wonderful time doing so. We got to hang with a lot of old friends and spend time with new ones, and if my ego was assuaged by people telling us how awesome Dragon*Con TV is, well, them’s the breaks.