deepsleep narcotics co.

•27 August 2007 • 4 Comments

I sometimes frequent the Faire Gallery situated on the corner of Olive and Melrose. It is variously described as the last bastion of CapHill hipsterdom against the regrettable descent into downtown, by the Stranger probably. Its own self-blurb claims noble descent from the Gertrude Stein-esque salons for Parisian dadaists. Refusing to be confined by the walls that bound lesser spaces, it shifts chameleon-like in between the roles of coffeshop, art gallery, live music venue, and non-public restroom. A few weeks ago, I caught a Friday night show by the Deepsleep Narcotics Co., who deserve to be better known than they are. Their contribution to my collection of fictitious musical genres (glitchpop, outjazz, synthetic noise, etc.) is triphop.

Other than the large collection of free MP3 tracks available on their website, they release new songs at their monthly show at ToST in Fremont on refillable flash drives. Truly, it is music from the future. Their band bio takes the form of a hilarious comic in the same style as Ye Olde tEp Force 22 Quill. On bass guitar is Aydin Tankut, who by day is a Ph.D. student in material science. Lynn Turner designs the visuals. DJ Samurai Lincoln scratches, samples, and writes the lyrics. The People’s Jay lays the beat and records the sound. And last and best, Lena Baisden is the siren call, plays bass, and is totally hot.

Inhabiting my current playlist alongside these somnolent pharmaceuticals are the United State of Electronica (the ambassadors of Seattle beeps and boops), Rasputina (the unholy children of Björk, three cellos, and maybe a sheet of Russian mafia acid), and Finntroll‘s Visor Om Slutet (unapologetic trollish hoedown metal).

water running uphill

•21 July 2007 • Leave a Comment

When I was little, my parents always let me put money in the collection plate at church. This was the high point for me in a Catholic mass, unless the Archbishop was wearing a particularly funny miter that day. I assumed this was in the same spirit as sending little girls to give flower bouquets, i.e. small children are cute, but they kept making me do it when I got older. Like I’m 26 years old and my mom still made me hand out the expected largesse to sundry aunts and uncles in our home village. My mom says it’s tradition (isn’t there a song about that?) to have the youngest child present distribute gifts, but I haven’t seen the inner workings of any family except my own. The problem with being the child of immigrants is that you can never tell when they are shitting you about the Old Country. “Yes, son, in my day we had to cut a deal with the giant turtle in the lake just to build our city.” (This is actually the popular myth of why Hanoi finally stayed up after collapsing repeatedly.)

we are all experts now

•5 June 2007 • Leave a Comment

MagiQ, one of a few companies actually making commercial products using quantum schmantum, has solicited a DARPA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. And guess who is the first and second references?

Haha, I guess I should plaster my name all over the website so that I can be a Google parasite for Ike, Aram, Ken, or the Blatt gruppe at Innsbruck. Make room on those coattails, papa’s got himself a free ride.

Maybe this will all work out after all. I dropped some serious change on that scope, and Ryan is all like “you know, pinball machines also cost thousands of dollars, but the kids play ’em everyday.” I think the implication was that the scope is like a pinball machine, and that by installing WoW and charging kids so much an hour, I would recover the money in no time. And then I could monetize by advertizing, like the startup kids say. I don’t even know what monetizing means. Perhaps turning things into money, like the Midas touch, or counterfeit.

carnivores and conscience

•30 April 2007 • Leave a Comment

Some people are uncomfortable with caring for an animal that will end up on their dinner plate, in which case they should really question what it means to be a carnivore. One of the things I like best about Vietnam was that almost all of the food was local. Restaurants either ordered their food from a nearby farm or were a direct front for the farm itself. In most cases, sitting in your cheap little plastic sidewalk table, you were within direct line-of-sight to the animals you would be eating. The meat is tough, there are bones to pick out, it is a mess to eat, because you are eating something that used to be alive, that has run around free, snarling, and feral. In contrast, the meat of American livestock is soft from being confined to a factory-farm for the entirety of its short, unhappy life. We prefer things to be tender and convenient to consume, like fishsticks and chicken nuggets, an abstraction of food without bones or tendons, neat and tidy in a batter-fried shell. Anything the corporation can do to disconnect your bountiful dining experience from its finite, grotesque sources in the real world.

I am the first to confess hypocrisy, I’ve never slaughtered a pig but I like to eat bacon. In real life I think pigs are cute, but I admit that this cuteness is pure socialization. In the jungle country I ate dog meat, half-hatched duck eggs, and goat’s blood, two of which are illegal in the U.S. I didn’t enjoy them because I knew what they were, and I have these deep-seated Western notions about what animals should be cuddled and infantilized as pets and what animals to keep out in the barn awaiting the cleaver. However, even the Vietnamese are not immune to polite euphemisms. There is a phrase “thịt gô gô” which roughly translates to “woof-woof meat.” Half-hatched duck eggs are themselves a euphemism for aborted duckling fetuses; there is some meat, the bones are soft enough to chew, and the yolk has not been completely used up yet.

It is one thing to justify eating animals; perhaps because their souls are smaller or more delicious than ours, but more probably because we evolved from omnivorous hunters with introspection. Whatever the reason, we should be able to apply the same argument to justify eating plants. As a digression, I do not mean to imply that only carnivores should have a conscience. Vegetarians and vegans do not get sole claim to the moral high ground if they ignore how their food is grown and where it comes from. Bonus points if it breaks your heart to eat a rose, or a venus fly-trap, or whatever passes for a cute plant these days.

It is another thing to deny that we are eating animals, to ignore the consequences of inhumane treatment or over-ranching land, and to pretend that we ourselves are not animals. If you think I am a bad person for eating puppy dogs, you are probably right. And if I think that you among all humans are especially delicious, then I am probably also right.

food activism

•23 April 2007 • Leave a Comment

This is a holiday that I take more seriously than Easter (either Pagan or Christian versions), that is more important than America Day, and yes, that has farther-reaching consequences than Groundhog Day. And not just because whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth (unfortunately my favorite Chief Seattle quote is a sham). I mean, it occurs on the 22nd of April, only a fool would dismiss it as a coincidence.

Earth Day brings together two important themes recently in my thoughts, locality and sustainability. Unsurprisingly, I spent the weekend at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, where they had a sustainable living conference. The implicit theme was global warming, but a more direct step is reducing use of petroleum. The visible upshot of all this is growing food locally in a sustainable way.

First, the concrete takeaways. I bought two books at fair prices from the subversive dreadlocks at Last Word Books. Book the first was Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook and book the second was a first edition of Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. Plus a bottle of some industrious bacteria from Effective Microorganisms to help me start a compost pile. Second, the intangible take-home messages, which included cool topics like slow life and urban gardening on concrete. But in this post, I’ll just deliver pat quotes, glib statements, and otherwise pithy remarks about food activism, soaked in my own experiences like the tincture of vanilla beans in Bacardi 151.

Sandor Katz, of food fermentation fame, summarizes his ideas on food activism through the catchphrase “sustainability is participation,” whose best example is community-supported agriculture (CSA). (The next four paragraphs are blatantly lifted from his talk with minimal embroiderment. The citations and lace doilies are all me.) Because it is illegal in many states for farmers to sell dairy or meat directly to consumers, they must sell their stock through a distributor/processor at fixed government rates. So much for a free-market economy.

One solution is for citizens to form co-ops and purchase shares of an animal and essentially hire a farmer to raise, milk, and/or slaughter it for them. In many cases, these farmers welcome the owners of the animal to visit their farms, inspect its living conditions, and even participate in its care. This form of “experiential quality control” is not only more rewarding, it is more reliable than arbitrary USDA/FDA regulations. Would you trust meatpackers inspected once a year by overworked, underfunded government employees? Do you think restaurant kitchens are somehow safer or better than your own kitchen because they have stainless steel surfaces and charge you money?

There are several urgent reasons to support small, local farms: they are more likely to treat soil sustainably, less petroleum is used to ship the food, more robust and naturally-evolved crop strains are preserved, and employment and communities are strengthened. Large agri-businesses tend to intensify the amount of technology applied to land, subvert evolution to increase yield, and lobby for more government incentives to drive up demand on over-surplussed crops (*cough* corn *cough* soy). Technology increases the amount of food one single person can grow, but land is the bottleneck, not human labor. If land is the resource most in need of sustainable treatment, and there is a surplus of cheap human labor, why aren’t there more farmers and why aren’t they making more money?

Less than one percent of all workers in the U.S. are farmers, and the average age of a U.S. farmer in 1997 was almost 55. As existing farmers retire or go out of business, their farms are bought up by big conflomerates. Human labor may be cheap, but oil is very nearly free in today’s economy. I can only claim this by ignoring some major concerns—the cost of defending of the supply chain; the true value of a scarce, non-renewable resource; and artificial price deflation through government subsidies. Farming is a dying profession but agriculture is not a dying business. Again, to solve the puzzle we follow the money.

Seed companies, like Seminis, describes itself as “the largest developer, grower, and marketer of fruit and vegetable seeds in the world.” The words “developer” and “marketer” are important in revealing the company’s business model. Its CEO is famously quoted as saying “Seeds are software, and we have the seeds.”

As long as we’re using metaphors for the biologically-impaired: genetic traits are the software, the seed is the delivery medium, and the plant is the hardware. All the work and value of genetic traits are in its development; after development is over, it is information and costs nothing to reproduce. You can now patent seed traits, prohibit customers from reverse-engineering your seeds and competing, and lock the traits into a physical seed to create artificial scarcity. But this is ridiculous, plants produce seeds naturally. Engineering hybrid strains to be seedless is like a copy protection scheme waiting to be hacked. Seminis was bought by Monsanto, who owns the rights to seed traits which appear in over 90% of all genetically-modified crops in the world. Ninety percent is a pretty miserable monopoly compared to others you could name, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Farmers, who control the plant hardware, are at the mercy of seed software manufacturers who monopolize their input source and also fix the price at which they can sell their output crops in collusion with the government. The end goal is to drive up demand for higher-yield crops and then profit off of supplying higher-yield seed, irrespective of value, scarcity, or the human beings involved. In the high-tech industry, who twists the arm of Intel, who controls more than 90% of the desktop software market, who slides out of antitrust suits like a greased pig, who’s your daddy, who is it?

That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms, a compost pile if you will, that is not yet mature and fertile in my thoughts. It suits my present purpose to suggest that if you support open source technology, it would not be inconsistent to buy local and sustainably-grown food, and vice versa. The imbalance and exploitation in agriculture angers me as much as it does in any industry, especially information technology. Being a farmer is definitely now on my short list of answers to Po Bronson’s question, “What should I do with my life?”

bloodstone

•1 March 2007 • 2 Comments
Bloodstone Cover Out From Out Where Cover

In the first track, you have followed an animatronic player-piano monkey into a sepia-toned Victorian carnival. Or rather, you are watching a movie of yourself, and it skips and jitters, plus the monkey is malfunctioning. You pass through a ballroom where dancers are waltzing to the Kronos Quartet backed by a swarm of hallucinating wasps. Halfway across the room the lighting cuts out, and you can only see the gothravers by their ultraviolet tattoos and the LEDs in their clothes. But you can hear, feel, and practically smell a gutteral pounding that is by turns nauseating and euphoric. You begin to suspect that the monkey is not really the problem here, and you would turn back, except you don’t know which direction that is.

In track the second, the fog of wars lifts enough for you to see that the player-piano thing has scampered into a motorbike drift race against the shattered industrial landscape of after-Tokyo. The only pounding is in your head and the wispy tendrils of sounds teasing out the corners of your hearing.

The last track, which does not appear on the final album, is a flight through cymbal windchimes attended by strident sunlight through the frequent breaks in the cloud cover. The ground is so far away you couldn’t even tell that you’ve been falling all along, and everything is falling with you. Fade to black as you imagine Miyazaki would have done.

This is a singles EP to give you a taste of The Foley Room, the new album by Brazilian breakbeat dynamo Amon Tobin. The main theme of the album is synthesizing found sounds recorded by two microphones hitting the street, and pairing complementary sounds from unrelated sources. It is due out March 6th, but Bloodstone is only available by download, either from Bleep.com, eMusic, and maybe iTunes? Bleep lets you download the 320 kbps lossless FLAC versions, and it also comes with a PDF of graphic art for each track. As with all music albums of worth, the cover art is worth the price alone, and OpenMind always outdoes itself with the gundamon on each Amon Tobin release.

You will need Winamp 5.31 or later to get built-in FLAC support on Windows, which is still damned inconvenient compared to apt-get install xmms-flac. This is already the sixth time through for me, I’ll probably put it on loop for the rest of the day. Slip into the Invicta skin, with the Alien Blue color scheme, to imagine how insufficient the light will be in the days to come.

I do not like to wear out my friend Hyperbole, but if I say that it is incumbent upon your person to acquire this album at whatever cost, I am exercising great restraint and understatement.

invicta2.jpg

colonial standard time

•23 February 2007 • 1 Comment

In case you’ve wondered which public (stratum 1) NTP servers you should be using, this page can hook you up. If, like me, you live in the Colony of Pudget Sound, you should use time-nw.nist.gov, except in the UW campus where you can use bigben.cac.washington.edu.

Stratum 0 servers are, of course, atomic clocks such as the NIST-F1 cesium clock. My friend Piet Schmidt used to work at the NIST clock in Boulder and is now in Innsbruck, where he does ion traps instead. But atomic clocks and neutral atom traps are very similar, and if he ever chose to make an atomic clock in that Austrian ski resort village, he promised me it would have a cuckoo. Thus, it would be the Best Clock in the World, and why else would you have a clock.

And while we’re on the subject of time, Niko’s dad Demetrios has arguably one of the best job titles ever, Director of Time, although privately we all call him a Time Lord. My favorite quote, when asked if the U.S. Navy would ever sell off the time standard: ‘No way,’ he says. ‘They need the time. Things have to work. If there’s a war on they don’t need some peacenik not giving them the time… ‘

Wow, I’m already on the last track of that Raconteurs album. Insidious.