Let’s Talk About Backups: 2023 Edition

I posted on FB yesterday about a serious crisis a client company of mine. The short version is that a computer of theirs melted down, and only then did they discover that while the database WAS creating regular backups, those backups were stored ONLY ON THAT SAME COMPUTER, and were thus just as lost as the rest of the data from that system.


I mean, I say “oops,” but in many cases this would also be a “please gather your things and leave your badge on the desk” kind of situation for whomever made that choice. It’s inexcusable in a professional environment.

But you know what? It’s also inexcusable for your personal data.

People ask me, so this is how I manage my personal and professional data security. Just accept that someday, something is going to go badly and irrevocably wrong, and take steps to protect yourself now — and this means more than one mechanism.

  1. Basic Local Backup. I use a Mac, so I have access to Apple’s excellent Time Machine feature. A cheap USB drive is plugged into my laptop, and the Time Machine process keeps that drive up to date with a versioned backup of everything on my laptop. You can “scroll backwards” in time to recover a version of that document you want from today, or from last Thursday, or whatever. It’s VERY powerful, and to date the ONLY one of these mechanisms I’ve ever had to use in a crisis. I do not know what options exist for this on Windows, but if you’re on a Mac you are a FOOL if you’re not taking advantage of this.

  2. Device Sync & Mobile Access. I use Dropbox a LOT. In fact, I have two accounts — one personal, and one with my company. All my active work files are in one of those accounts, and sync (encrypted) through the cloud so I can access them from my phone, or my iPad, or from my backup laptop. This isn’t precisely a backup mechanism, but it’s a powerful way to give you access to data in multiple places, and to make it easy to continue to work if your main machine fails or freezes up or whatever. There are now several competing tools for Dropbox-like behavior, like iCloud and OneDrive and whatnot, but I don’t trust ANY of them like I do Dropbox. Dropbox costs money, but it’s worth it.

  3. Online backup. I’ve used many systems over the years for this, but the current one is iDrive. It’s a little technical; I’m told that Backblaze is a simpler choice for people who don’t do Computer for a living. With these services, you point the local software at a folder or folders, and it uploads your data to an (encrypted) online backup for you.

  4. Periodic images. On a Mac, at least, it’s pretty easy to create a complete clone of your main drive, OS and all. I used to do this regularly, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. If you have critical data, though, and you’re going light on one of the other three methods, maybe fold this in, too. Be aware, though, that just keeping a recent copy of your data isn’t going to protect against file corruption that doesn’t show up quickly. I lost some photos this way about 20 years ago; this is why most real backup tools do versioned backups that allow you to recover files as they were in the past.

So, Chet, ever had to USE one of these?

Glad you asked. I’ve definitely used the versioning available in Dropbox and Time Machine to recover from a file level screwup of my own doing, but the only time I’ve needed a backup in a catastrophic way was when we were robbed in a smash-and-grab incident several years ago. Our backyard was unsecured, and my laptop was visible through the sliding glass door. They were in and out in probably a minute, and I was out a laptop — but they left all the stuff plugged INTO the laptop (including the charger, LOL).

I’m insured, of course, so I just went to the Apple store to buy a replacement. I plugged it in, and then plugged my Time Machine drive into it and told the Migration Assistant to treat the backup as the source. In an hour or two, it was as if nothing had ever happened — even my browser windows were in the same place.

Absent Time Machine, I still wouldn’t have lost anything — then as now, I was using several other mechanisms — but it would’ve been MUCH more hassle and taken MUCH more time and effort. Those paths need to exist, though — what if they’d taken the drive? Or what if the house had burned down? Or ….

Now, go and do likewise.

Nile Rodgers is a merchant of JOY

This six-song set at NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts is maybe the finest, tightest concert you’ll ever see. And it’s in an office.

To be fair: they brought a horn section.

Rodgers, if you’re somehow unaware, is a GIANT of American music. He wrote, co-wrote, or produced SO MUCH music you know by heart even if you were never specifically a Chic fan (about which: you should be). Wikipedia kinda sums up his impact: “The co-founder of Chic, he has written, produced, and performed on records that have sold more than 500 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide.”

The set:

  • “Le Freak,” by Chic, from 1978.
  • “I’m Coming Out,” originally recorded by Diana Ross in 1980, but written and produced by Rodgers and his longtime bandmate and musical partner Bernard Edwards (who sadly passed away in 1996).
  • “We Are Family,” a 1979 hit recorded by Sister Sledge, written and produced by Rodgers and Edwards.
  • “Get Lucky,” the Daft Punk hit from 2013, which you may or may not know was a colaboration with Pharrell and Rodgers.
  • “Good Times,” the 1979 Chic hit that has become one of the most sampled songs in American music — and, not for nothing, was one of the FIRST; a sample of it underlies “Rapper’s Delight” which came out the same year.
  • “Let’s Dance,” the Bowie song from 1983, which Rodgers produced and plays guitar on.

Oh, and there’s a surprise appearance by a little ditty written by Rodgers for a beloved late 80s film somewhere in the middle. :)

Make time. You won’t be sorry. Play it loud.

Old Dudes Bring The Noise

Anthrax and Chuck D bring the noise, again, and have Lost No Steps. This performance is part of the 40th anniversary for Anthrax, in case you weren’t feeling old enough yet.

(The original collaboration, from 1991, is here. Watching it now, I realize you can date a given Anthrax performance by the length of Scott’s goatee — kinda like the width of Johnny’s lapels in old Tonight Show reruns.)

Toni Basil is fucking EIGHTY YEARS OLD

This is being passed around quite a bit right now, and it’s true: “Mickey” artist and longtime choreographer Toni Basil was born on this day in 1943. And yes, it’s alarming to find out the artist of a song of your youth is an octogenarian, but! there’s more here.

Mickey” was a hit in 1982. This means that the simple, almost throwback song was released when Basil was already almost 40, and nowhere near the young ingenue she appeared to be in the video. I mean, well done to Ms Basil, but it’s a thing, and it means she was nearly a generation older than we assumed she was when she became quote-unquote famous.

Turns out, though, that she was almost 20 years deep in a fairly accomplished entertainment career when became a one-hit wonder (lol). Like, per Wikipedia, she was a lead dancer in the 1964 film “Pajama Party,” and appeared in the Elvis-vehicle “Viva Las Vegas” that same year. By the mid-60s she was in demand as a choreographer, and released her first single in 1966.

If you review the top hits of 1982, another female artist near the top is Joan Jett, who was only 24 in 1982. Billy Idol is only 3 years older than Jett. That’s more what we expect of pop artists, and that’s why we all blithely assumed she was in their cohort, and that’s what sets us up for this “holy shit Toni Basil is 80” moment.

Instead of being shocked at her age, though, be impressed by her resume — a resume already pretty impressive BEFORE her “one hit wonder” 41 years ago.

I will never tire of the story of Wojtek

Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear who somewhat famously “served” in the Polish military during WWII. I mean, the scare quotes are probably not required; he absolutely did mimic his soldier caretakers, and that included saluting, marching, and literally carrying ammo crates, which sounds a lot like literally serving to me.

For bureaucratic reasons, he was also officially conscripted first as a private, and later promoted to corporal, so yeah, he served. After the war, he retired to a zoo in Scotland, where he lived until 1963. Animal behavior blogger “Why Animals Do The Thing” has more pictures, which are kind of amazing.

It’s possible, though, that my favorite thing about this story is his wikipedia page, and specifically the set of categories he belongs to. They include:

  • List of individual bears; and
  • Poles in the United Kingdom

On Not Knowing

I’ve been in the software game for 30 years now. I’ve seen some things.

One of the things I’ve seen is the gradual degradation of technical capability in IT departments. When I joined this world, there was little divide between people who built software and people who ran information systems; they had many of the same skills, and careers would often move through both spheres.

That’s not really the case anymore. Software people just build software, and remain (generally speaking) technically proficient and often quite bright. However, the other side of the house is in disarray. IT departments are now often overrun with people who have never done anything hands on at all, or who have very very minimal technical ability. This is trouble, and leads to meetings with a WHOLE BUNCH of people who are deadweight while two or three people who can actually engage with the material have a conversation.

(That said conversation is frequently interrupted by the know-nothings with worthless contributions should be taken as read.)

But wait! It gets worse!

I have a customer now who has taken this a step even farther by outsourcing the not-knowing to a third party. I suppose this makes sense, because you can get external people to not know things for far less money than hiring internal people to not know these things.

We must engage these third party people to ensure there’s a proper headcount of know-nothings in any given meeting; often, we must reschedule to ensure that precisely the correct parties are included — we may have someone on the call who does not understand Active Directory, sure, but we ALSO need a resource who does not understand SQL Server, and they’re offshore, so we have to reschedule.

Obviously, too, the lack of knowing generally allows the rampant metastasis of Policy, which always thrives in environments short on knowledge. Such policies are often at odds with reality, and so we must carefully explain why one cannot, for example, do the IT equivalent of declaring mathematical truths by legislative fiat.

(Yes, that link describes an event from 1897, but don’t get cocky; legislative bodies the world over continually try to impose back doors on cryptographic systems that would somehow only ever be usable by “good” people, which makes no more sense than setting π = 3.2.)

Rescued from Facebook: In which I prattle on about Hogan’s Heroes

Here I am, being an Old, but bear with me.

I grew up watching “classic TV” reruns. They ran ALL THE TIME in the afternoons, owing largely I suspect to the lack of content available at the time. Obviously MASH was the king, but a longtime ever-present option was Hogan’s Heroes.

Even late GenX folks may not remember, but this weird little sitcom — it ran from 1965 to 1971, and was waning in syndication by the time I went to college — about a German POW camp was kind of delightfully subversive, and the cast included some pretty wonderful actors. The most famous after the show was probably English actor Richard Dawson, who went on to game show fame with Match Game and Family Feud, but the bench was much deeper.

John Banner played the loveable, oafish, somewhat dim Sergeant Schulz (“I know nothing! NOTHING!”). Banner was born Johann Banner to Jewish parents in Austria-Hungary, in an area that is now part of Ukraine. He fled Europe in 1938, when Hitler annexed Austria, and eventually enlisted in the the Army Air Corps. Banner died young (by modern standards) at 63, back in 1971.

The camp was run by the imperious but only marginally competent Colonel Klink, played by German-born actor Wener Klemperer. He and his family emigrated to the US in 1933, where his father was the conductor of the LA Philharmonic. He acted in the thirties, but joined the Army when the war began. When Hogan’s Heroes came along, he accepted the role only if the Colonel was to be played as a fool incapable of succeeding; the writers obliged. He lived to be 80.

What moved me to write this today [which was, at the time, 17 November 2022] was the news that Robert Clary, the French actor who played the diminutive Corporal LeBeau and the last surviving principal cast member, passed away at the ripe old age of 96 yesterday.

What I had not appreciated was that Clary — born Robert Max Widerman — was a Holocaust survivor. Born in Paris in 1926, he was the youngest of 14 children. He was already singing professionally by the age of 12 — but then, of course, the war came to France.

In 1942, at 16, he and his family were abducted by the Nazis, and he was sent to the camp at Buchenwald. His parents and 10 of his siblings were sent instead to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Clary survived, he believed, because he could entertain his SS captors. He was liberated in 1945, and was able to resume his entertainment career successfully enough that he made his way to Hollywood and TV immortality in Hogan’s Heroes.

Oh look. They’re still at it.

The most hilarious thing about the new video from octogenarian nostalgia outfit The Rolling Stones is how it is comprised almost exclusively of historical footage of the band — interposed with a lovely blonde doing a Tawny Kitaen impression in a convertible — presumably because images of three Skeletors tested poorly with focus groups.

Anderson, Evaluated

I present here the revised, post-Asteroid definitive ranking of Wes Anderson films, from best to worst.

I will not be taking questions at this time.

  • Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
  • Rushmore (1998)
  • The French Dispatch (2021)
  • The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
  • Isle of Dogs (2018)
  • Bottle Rocket (1996)
  • Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Asteroid City (2023)
  • The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

“Every Cheesecake Factory looks like what would happen if a time-traveling Italian artisan drew ancient Egypt from memory.”

Vox ruminates on the phenomenon that is The Cheesecake Factory. Bits:

Plainly describing what a Cheesecake Factory looks like to someone who has never been to one may cause them to think you’re lying or trying to trick them. That’s what happens when you invite someone to imagine the unimaginable. Who would expect that you could walk from your local mall right into a place where Egyptian columns flank Greco-Roman accents, where mosaics buttress glass fixtures that look like the Eye of Sauron? With soaring ceilings, interior palm trees, and faux-wicker chairs (but, somehow, no water feature), it is a factory only of chaotic phantasmagoria.


In my informal survey of Factory fans, it wasn’t just the memories that stood out, but the absolutely stunning variety. “It’s the ultimate our-group-can’t-agree-on-a-place restaurant,” said one responder, “A mall food court with table service.”

Patricia Lockwood on DFW

This whole piece, about The Pale King and Infinite Jest, is great, but this paragraph in particular is fanTAStic:

Time​ will tell who is an inventor and who is a tech disruptor. There was ambient pressure, for a while, to say that Wallace created a new kind of fiction. I’m not sure that’s true – the new style is always the last gasp of an old teacher, and Infinite Jest in particular is like a house party to which he’s invited all of his professors. Thomas Pynchon is in the kitchen, opening a can of expired tuna with his teeth. William Gaddis is in the den, reading ticker-tape off a version of C-Span that watches the senators go to the bathroom. Don DeLillo is three houses down, having sex with his wife. I’m not going to begrudge him a wish that the world was full of these wonderful windy oddballs, who were all entrusted with the same task: to encompass, reflect, refract. But David, some of these guys had the competitive advantage of having been personally experimented on by the US military. You’re not going to catch them. Calm down.

The final three paragraphs are outstanding as well, but I won’t steal their thunder by copying them here. Just go read the whole thing.

(Lockwood noted here previously, on John Updike, back in 2020; in my long years of failing to blog books, I realize I never wrote here of her memoir Priestdaddy from 2017, which is excellent and worth your time as well.)

The Importance of Keeping Everything

So I’m doing some biz travel this week, for the first time in a LONG time, and I was concerned my usual briefcase, iconic though it is, wasn’t going to get it done this time. I need to carry a few more things than usual, and it can get cramped.

But then I remembered something in a closet. I have an original Land’s End “square rigger” briefcase that’s basically the same form factor, but a little bigger — big enough, for example, to hold the collateral I need to carry. I pulled it out, and realized just how old it was — it was a gift from my mother when I was in college, probably in 1990 or so. I remember having it in the dorm, and I moved out of the dorm in spring 1991, so earlier than that for certain.

It’s got a reasonable but not unseemly amount of wear — especially for something this old — but then I found a kind of time capsule in it. The bag, like many, has a luggage tag that take business cards.

The one showing was for a job I left in 2001, but the card design dates from probably 1998 or 1999.

Behind that card is my business card from a job I held from 1994 through early 1997.

And behind THAT card is a handwritten one with my address from Tuscaloosa on it. I left Tuscaloosa in 1994.

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Books of 2023, #10: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Wow. No kidding, this is the best “big idea” SF I’ve read in a really really long time. It won some awards (back in 2015 when it was published), but not enough of them by my lights.

The basic setup here is that, in the nonspecific future, humanity realizes that the damage done to the Earth is cascading and irreversible, and so as a way of saving the species ambitious terraforming projects are undertaken at apparently-viable extrasolar planets. Obviously there are all very far away, and there’s no magic FTL drive on offer, so cryosleep is the answer.

This means a long gap between “let’s go out there and terraform” and “let’s go move there,” and of course politics gets in the way. The mission is started, but before anyone can actually establish a colony on one of these worlds, infighting and nation-scale wars more or less knock humanity back down the tech ladder quite a ways.

While life on earth drifts backward, though, the terraforming folks are doing their work. On one planet — Kern’s world — the idea was to seed it with monkeys infected with a beneficial nanovirus (the plot-driving handwavium here) that allows for generational learning and accelerated development. Cool idea!

But! As that monkey-seeding was being undertaken, the station is struck by a weapon from a rival Earth faction, killing all the monkeys — and releasing the nanovirus to infect another formerly earthbound species: Portia labiata.

Thousands of years later, we pick up the tale with two parallel threads.

The first is with successive generations of now-intelligent spiders as they evolve from effectively a tribal existence to the basics of a spacefaring (or at least satellite-capable) civilization. What does intelligence and technology look like for an uplifted spider?

The second POV is aboard a ship of pilgrims from the new, second round of Earth-based intelligent humans. They have independently developed space travel; previous Earth tech is mostly impenetrable to them (and far beyond their ability; they refer to all that as Old Empire stuff). As before, they’re seeking a new home, and have become aware of the terraforming project at work on Kern’s world.

The problem with “big idea” books is that sometimes that’s all there is. I find books like that dissatisfying. I was NOT dissatisfied here. Tchaikovsky does a great job of exploring the universe he’s created, and coming up with really fascinating turns that nevertheless still fold into the story in organic, elegant ways. Both spider and human confront and move through a variety of challenges as the book marches towards the obviously inevitable conclusion (ie, who gets to live on Kern’s world?).

One very cool aspect here is the way he uses points of view. For the humans, it’s kind of conventional: We have some set of “Key Crew” of the pilgrim ship who slip in and out of cryosleep over time, which allows one — a classicist (meaning he studies “Old Empire” stuff) named Holsten — to be our main eyes and ears for their tale. This consistent POV is a great means of continuity, and also allows the Tchaikovsky to emphasize how alien a “baseline” human has become vs. the generations eventually born on board the ship.

But, as I said, that’s the “normal” part. On Kern’s world, our point of view is nearly always from a spider named Portia, but each time we switch back to the spider narrative it’s a later spider with the same name. Again, the timeline of this book is at least 2,500 years, and we follow the spider civilization through a number of crucible moments and existential threats. The series of Portias have associates with recurring names as well. This may sound weird but it works REALLY well. I was super pleased with the conceit; it gave the story continuity without complicating things with a long list of names you’d read once and lose.

Tchaikovsky has written a really wonderful example of what Big Idea SF can do and be. It’s probably not going to surprise you that you find yourself on the spiders’ side in the inevitable conflict, which is a neat trick when the other side are the last remaining humans. What may surprise you is the degree you find yourself reflecting back on the themes built into the story, and interwoven between the two narratives; by the time you get to the end, you’ll realize the somewhat surprising conclusion was where the book was going all along. It’s a lovely moment.

Anyway, this book isn’t small — it’s 500+ pages long, but reads quickly.

Here’s the Wiki page. There are two sequels, and I’m sure I’ll get to them before the year is out.

Dept. of Wild Threads

This morning, over my coffee, I was reading some articles I’d put off. I’m a fan of SNL, and my friend Theres maintains a TV blog with her own recaps and discussions of various shows, including SNL.

I read through her post on the Travis Kelce episode from a few weeks ago (and she’s right; he was way funnier than you’d expect), but was kinda stunned to discover that the “posed dead body at the funeral” skit was taken from something that is currently being done in New Orleans. See here.

The “wild thread” part of this comes deep in the linked NYT article:

Ms. Burbank’s service was the second of its kind that Mr. Charbonnet had arranged, and the third in New Orleans in two years. But there have been others elsewhere, most notably in San Juan, P.R. Viewings there in recent years have included a paramedic displayed behind the wheel of his ambulance and, in 2011, a man dressed for his wake like Che Guevara, cigar in hand and seated Indian style.

“I never said it was the first,” said Mr. Charbonnet, who mentioned the 1984 funeral of Willie Stokes Jr., a Chicago gambler known as the Wimp, who sat through his funeral services behind the wheel of a coffin made to look like a Cadillac Seville.


I know that name. I know it because Stevie Ray Vaughan had success with a song about Willie the Wimp back in the 80s, and until this morning I was sure it was just a Blues Tall Tale. I mean, who has a “Cadillac coffin?”

Apparently, Willie did.

Pulling on that thread

The other day I was reminded, for some random reason, of a great scene from the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War wherein we get a really lovely confrontation between Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s character (and real life CIA officer) Gust Avrakotos and CIA administrator Henry Cravely (whom I’m not sure was real or not) played by John Slattery:

The piece of this that sticks in my memory is the moment, at the end of his rant that starts about a minute in, where Gust finishes his rant with “…and I am never, ever sick at sea.” Weird flex, right? But cool in the moment.

But in seeing this scene again, I remembered that I’d heard it before, from Alec Baldwin back in 1993, in the underrated neo-noir Malice. Here’s the scene; it’s worth going with the whole clip to get context (and a late performance by George C. Scott), but Baldwin’s bit starts at about 3:00. Here, he’s a high-powered and egotistical surgeon accused of malpractice due to arrogance:

There it is again: “I am never, ever sick at sea.”

That’s a weird line — I mean, it’s great, but it’s odd once and super odd TWICE in very similar contexts, which is enough to tickle my brain into a bit of research. Two things immediately came to light:

First, that the line is a reference to Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1878 H.M.S. Pinafore; and

Second, that the screenwriter on both films was one Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin is a documented G&S nerd — so much so that he wove references thereto into the fabric of his best known work, the award-winning TV show The West Wing. In season two, he even literally ENDS an episode with the main cast singing along to a song from (yep) Pinafore.

Books of 2023, #8 & #9, in which we resample Harlen Coben

After a long but tiring vacation trip out west, I found myself unwilling to delve into the Serious book I’d brought, so at the Palm Springs airport — a curious place, to be sure; its interior is mostly outside — I bought a random airport thriller.

I chose it against my better judgement, because it was by Harlen Coben. I’ve read him before, and even written about it here; his first Myron Bolitar book was pretty much derivative crap that I’m sorry I spent time on.

Even so, his book was the least stupid looking option on the shelf, so that’s how I ended up reading Win. Spoiler: I couldn’t put it down, and read the whole thing in our flights back from California. The titular Win is Windsor Horne Lockwood III, a side character from Coben’s Bolitar series.

In my prior post, I noted how slavishly Coben apes the superior work of Robert Parker. His hero is a Spenser-type character, surrounded by a Spenser-type supporting cast. Instead of Susan, he has his own improbably attractive and brilliant girlfriend. And instead of the wonderful Hawk, Bolitar’s morally-flexible unstoppable badass partner is Windsor Lockwood — a visually slight, obviously patrician scion of a hugely wealthy family who has, of course, done Sekrit Agent work or whatever, and steps into the fray when ugly things need doing.

But, sue me, those sorts of characters are kind of my kryptonite, and a book with Win as the main character seemed like it might be fun. And it was! Like I said, I read it in essentially one sitting.

This gave me a thought: Had I misjudged Coben? Should I sample him again? I mean, in the interest of Science and all that, of course. So I went over to our local mystery bookshop and picked up another Coben: Fool Me Once, from 2016.


Fool Me Once is an absolute shitshow of a book. It was hard to finish. It’s stuffed with unearned turns of events and a grossly insulting ending that should have earned Coben a public shaming. Jesus, it’s terrible.

so yeah: skip Coben. Win might be fine, and I guess if he returns to Lockwood I might sample it — but from the library; no way I’m paying MONEY for this guy’s stuff again.

Books of 2023, #7: Empty the Pews

Empty the Pews is a collection of essays from people who have, for various reasons, left religion. Obviously some leave authoritarian cults, but others leave for more basic reasons: the church denies them identity and humanity. The church fails even cursory examination. The church, well, fails.

It’s pretty fine. I thought I’d have time to write more about it, but that impulse has been overcome by events and now probably won’t happen. But it’s a great effort, and one I’m glad I read.

Callin’ out in transit

R.E.M.’s Murmur was released forty years ago yesterday, on 12 April 1983.

Even though I wouldn’t find them for another couple years, it’s from this root that all the great music of my youth grows. These songs remain like cool, cool water to me. For the best part of 40 years, a copy of Murmur has never been far away. For more than 20, it’s literally ALWAYS been on my music player of choice.


The oddest tribute record I’ve ever seen

Somehow, back in 2021, I completely missed the release of The Metallica Blacklist, a multi-artist tribute to the elder statesmen’s 1991 album.

What’s weird about this set, though, is how they settled the “who gets to do which song” debate that I assume underpins every such tribute record. This time, the remit was “hey, fuck it, just do whichever song you want.” This led to (a) a huge collection; it has 53 tracks spread across 4 discs (I mean, if you buy it)… but all 53 of those tracks are versions of the twelve songs from The Black Album.

There are six versions of “Enter Sandman,” for example (including one from Ghost) and a full dozen of “Nothing Else Matters” — including contributions from Phoebe Bridgers, Dave Gahan, My Morning Jacket, Darius Rucker, Chris Stapleton, and a weird all-star recording from Miley Cyrus collaborating with Yo-Yo Ma, Elton John, Chad Smith, and Robert Trujillo. I mean: dang.

The upshot is that this is probably not something you’d sit and listen to at once — I mean, I like this kind of stuff, but even I don’t want to listen to twelve covers of the same song back to back. At the same time, the lack of scarcity brought on by a streaming-first world (again, 53 tracks, so a pre-streaming physical version would’ve doubtless been prohibitively expensive for most folks) means there’s space here for some wildly different, very experimental versions of these songs.

That’s cool.

Anyway. Carry on.

Samsung: Lying Liars who Lie

Samsung phone cameras boast of a fancy “Space Zoom,” and they show it off by taking apparently super detailed pictures of the moon from Earth.

Turns out, though, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

Check it out. The long and short of it is someone thought this looked too good to be true, so he captured a deliberately blurry and detail-free photo of the moon, displayed it on his computer screen, and then took a picture of it with his Samsung.

Samsung’s camera identified it as a picture of the moon — and then basically replaced the image with a manipulated high res picture pulled from somewhere else and doctored to look like an actual capture.

Samsung is not covering itself in glory here; they’ve been constantly prevaricating and providing “blurry” answers when challenged, and even at one point said something that seems demonstrably false:

In 2021, Input Mag published a lengthy feature on the “fake detailed moon photos” taken by the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung told the publication that “no image overlaying or texture effects are applied when taking a photo” but that the company uses AI to detect the Moon’s presence and “then offers a detail enhancing function by reducing blurs and noises.”

Except, if you start with a shitty, blurry photo, there are no details to enhance, and no “noise” to remove. If you end up with a sharp picture, then the details have been supplied by the camera, not reality. That’s lying.

Posted in Pix

Books of 2023, #6: Nina Simone’s Gum, by Warren Ellis

First: the musician, not the comic book author. Yeah, it’s weird that there are two niche-famous artists of roughly the same age, and who likely share no small number of fans. The world is weird. (I have ended migrating from a fan of the latter into being a fan of the former, for lots of reasons.)

THIS Warren Ellis is the one famous as Nick Cave’s primary collaborator in the Bad Seeds (see note), Grinderman, and for film score work (most recently on Blonde); Ellis himself also has a band called Dirty Three. He’s a multidisciplinary creative, but he had not yet ventured into the written word (unlike Cave, obviously).

Like many musicians — and people! — Ellis has musical idols and influences that he venerates. Perhaps the most significant for him, it seems, was Nina Simone, but he only ever got to see her perform fairly late, at a festival curated by Cave in 1999, only four years before she passed away.

At the end of her (apparently triumphant, transcendent) performance, Ellis noticed that she’d left her chewing gum on the piano, and on a lark wrapped it in a towel and kept it. In that moment it became a modern relic, in the religious sense; Ellis kept it safe for 20 years, wrapped in that towel and kept in an aging bag from Tower Records, before it became clear that it should be included in the Nick Cave-focussed Stranger than Kindness exhibition in Copenhagen (it’s touring, but there are no plans for a US stop).

This book is part memoir, part discussion of relics, and part the biography of the relic after it emerged from the Tower bag. It is completely delightful, and you should read it even if you’re not a Nick Cave fan. For a book like this, there are no spoilers, so let me include for you Ellis’ final paragraph:

The world you create inside is mirrored outside. Release your ideas and let them land on others’ ears. Enter their hearts. They need them to take flight. Keep the sacred and magical close, and don’t listen to people who tell you it isn’t true. Create your gods, and they will watch over you.

Note: The Bad Seeds released their first record in 1984. Like most long-running bands, has had a number of lineup changes over the years, but a real changing the of the guard happed in 2009, when Cave’s initial main crony Mick Harvey left the band. Ellis stepped into the gap, and the records since then (starting with Push the Sky Away in 2013) are pretty different and, by my lights, suggest a pretty huge artistic and musical leap. The Bad Seeds followed it with the “Arthur” records made in the wake of the loss of Cave’s son: Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen. Both deal mostly (and beautifully) with grief and faith, and which are astonishing documents in and of themselves.

Books of 2023, #5: Dr. No, by Percival Everett

There’s nothing I can tell you about this book that would be an exaggeration. It’s fucking AMAZING — no surprise, really, given that Everett has become a bit of a big deal in recent years.

Our hero is a mathematician who studies nothing. He is the world authority on nothing. He spends all day doing nothing, and nothing comes from it.

He is contacted by a wealthy man who aims to become a supervillain. He believes nothing will allow him to achieve his dreams. Our hero accepts employment with the plutocrat, and madcap hilarity (of a dark sort) ensues.

Everett’s book here is lighter in tone than The Trees, which I read last year (and which was shortlisted for the Booker), but still retains the deadpan lunacy that Everett brings to his work. I can’t suggest this book (and his others) enough. It’s an unalloyed DELIGHT.

Who’s Got an EGOT?

Viola Davis made history last night by becoming just the 18th person to achieve “EGOT” status: she’s won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.

What’s interesting about the list is how few of these folks are household names — probably because composers and musicians have an inside track here:

  1. Richard Rodgers, of Rodgers & Hammerstein fame, was first.

  2. Helen Hayes, actress

  3. Rita Moreno, actress. My favorite thing about her EGOT status is that she clinched with an Emmy for the Muppet Show.

  4. John Gielgud, actor (though he won a Tony in 1961 for direction after already achieving his EGOT).

  5. Audrey Hepburn, actress (though her Emmy was from a program where she appeared as herself)

  6. Marvin Hamlisch, composer

  7. Jonathan Tunick, composer

  8. Mel Brooks, comedic actor, writer, and director.

  9. Mike Nichols, mostly a director, but his Grammy was for comedic performance

  10. Whoopi Goldberg, comedian and actress, also won a Tony as a producer

  11. Scott Rudin is the first person to achieve this as a producer only. He is also, it should be noted, an enormous asshole.

  12. Robert Lopez, songwriter. Lopez was also the fastest to get there (10 years), and the youngest (39).

  13. Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer and titan of musical theater

  14. Tim Rice, lyricist

  15. John Legend, singer, songwriter, and producer. He hit the EGOT in the same moment as Rice and Webber, as they were all honored for a live TV production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2018.

  16. Alan Menken, composer

  17. Jennifer Hudson, actress and producer, and youngest female winner

  18. Viola Davis, actress

Note that the list doesn’t count you if one of your awards is non-competitive (e.g., lifetime achievement or other special sort of award). These folks have the four awards, but one of them’s non-competitive:

  • Barbra Streisand (Special Tony)
  • Liza Minelli (Grammy “Legend”)
  • James Earl Jones (Honorary Oscar)
  • Harry Belafonte (Academy Humanitarian Award)
  • Quincy Jones (Academy Humanitarian Award)

In all these cases EXCEPT Jones, the “special” award was the clincher; for Q, he clinched with a competitive Tony in 2016 after his Humanitarian Oscar in 1994. Obviously, he’s got some Grammys — 28 of them.

(There’s also the notion of the PEGOT, which adds the Pulitzer to the mix; only Rodgers and Hamlisch have this honor, but it’d be foolish to bet against Lin-Manuel Miranda getting there given that he lacks only the Oscar at this point.)

I can already see the memes coming

I’m not sure when this was announced, but: Austin Butler is playing Feyd Rautha in Dune 2.

This is a pretty key role, and much was made of the fact that there was no casting news about it for the first installment, largely because there was no need to show him in the first half of the story, I reckon. Feyd is the nephew to the Harkonnen duke and primary antagonist, and is positioned in the narrative as a sort of anti-Paul. In the 1984 film, Sting played him as if there were no such thing as overacting. (Not for nothing, Butler is the same age now that Sting was in 1984, which is in line with the rest of the primary cast choices I mentioned here last year.)

Given Butler’s recent fame from the titular role in Baz Lurman’s Elvis, it’s easy to imagine the sort of nutbird mashups we’re likely to get, and for once I’m here for it.

Books of 2023 #4: Far from the Light of Heaven, by Tade Thompson

I don’t actually remember why I pulled down the sample on my Kindle, but the other night I finished another book, and found it, and thought “hell, why not read it?”

Yeah, that was a mistake. This is pitched as a locked-room-mystery space opera, but holy hell it’s a mess. There’s way too much extraneous plot, way too many characters without enough to do, and a really muddled ending. It’s very much a chain of Exciting! Plot! Developments! that are generally unearned, and when reveals happen they’re muted and not terribly interesting. I mean, sure, introduce an interstellar conspiracy 2/3 of the way through the book; why not?

This one’s the first one in a long time that reminds me of a quote usually attributed to Dorothy Parker: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Books of 2023 #3: Hell Bent, by Leigh Bardugo

Early last year I read the first Galaxy Stern book (Ninth House) based on a shelf talker at Brazos. It was fine — not the best thing I read last year for sure, but a solid gentleman’s B. And it was definitely good enough to have me jump on the sequel more or less as soon as it popped up as available on my Kindle.

I should take this as a lesson, though, because we all know Amazon is evil, and that you should buy your books locally, and I even have a great outlet for said, but sometimes we are weak. And this time, my weakness was punished with a real overwrought mess of a sequel.

I think Bardugo is pushing for a series here, and why not? I mean, that’s clearly where all genre is going — just try finding a self-contained book at this point. Ninth House had its charms, despite being very trope-driven: underprivileged young woman plucked from dangerous circumstances to attend fucking YALE on a scholarship, but the catch is she has to serve in something called Lethe: a super-secret society that monitors the magical pursuits of the OTHER secret societies on campus. And, wouldn’t you know it, murder and mayhem ensue.

It even ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but if I’m honest that wasn’t why I went ahead and read the second one; I had enjoyed, at least to a point, the company of Alex Stern and her Lethe cohort, so I was interested enough to buy the sequel on my Kindle at 10:30 at night.

As I said, mistake.

Bardugo has shoved just entirely TOO MUCH STUFF into this book. There are too many plot points, too many new magical ideas pulled out of hats with very little prior justification, too many new characters, and entirely too much empty peril for Stern — whom we know is garbed head to toe in Plot Armor. Moreover, the book needed a MUCH more ruthless editor; we’re burdened repeatedly by needless backstory for minor characters, none of which does much besides increase the page count.

I don’t think I’ll be back for the all-but-inevitable follow-up books.

Let’s blog books again. 2023 #1: The World We Make by N. K. Jemisin

I’ve been a fan of Jemisin‘s work since before she was a Genius, so it’s no surprise I was VERY VERY enthusiastic about the sequel to 2020’s The City We Became, and snagged it as soon as my local shop had a copy.

I’ll be honest and say I didn’t love The World We Make QUITE as much as City, but it’s a minor distinction. She lands the tale well, especially considering that she’d intended a trilogy and pivoted to duology while writing the followup.

Since it’s a sequel I can’t really say much without getting all spoilery, but if you’re a fan of her work, definitely read these two.

New Hip + 10

Ten days ago, on 9 January, I showed up at Memorial Hermann’s Ortho Hospital at five goddamn o’clock in the morning, taking my last steps on a hip that looks like this. It was still dark.

IMG 3715

I was no small amount of nervous. Sure, I had much more invasive surgery 8 years ago, when the initial repair happened, but it was on an emergency basis; I had no time to ruminate over it. This time it was a countdown for a month and a half, since we’d decided to push it off until after the holidays.

I can’t decide if it was disconcerting or calming that, for them, it was just another Monday. Total hip replacements are a dime a dozen now; the procedure itself usually takes less than 2 hours. So we were there, and we did a brief amount of paperwork, and then I went upstairs for prep.

IMG 3716

I joke that, at this point in the process, I was probably cleaner than I had ever been, and this is because for scheduled surgical procedures in this era of infection, they have you scrub the bejesus out of yourself the night before with super-strong antibacterial soap and a sterile, hospital-issued sponge — and then get up on the day of the procedure and do it again. The stuff was harsh, and my skin felt weird, but I guess the weirdness tells you it’s working.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE, because as soon as I was upstairs in a prep area, my first task after stripping was to — you guessed it — wipe my whole person down AGAIN with antibacterial wipes.

I say that; ACTUALLY the first memorable task for ME in that moment was this:

IMG 3717

For about 18 months, I’ve had a lift in my left shoe, owing to the gradual but serious bone loss at the top of my left leg. That’s why I’ve limped; that’s one reason I’ve needed a cane since Christmas 2021. And one key change on deck for January 9 was the re-levelilng of my legs, so this little bastard gets to go into a landfill somewhere. Good riddance.

What followed as the usual rigmarole of blood draws and IV lines and etc. I had few moments to myself, but it did seem proper in 2023 to commemorate with a final pre-surgical old-hip selfie:

IMG 3718

Then? Well, then things get fuzzy. The anesthesiologist came in and started prepping me for the spinal block, and the main nurse came back and hit me with a couple things in the IV, one of which was Versed which, among other things, interferes with memory. By this point Erin was with me, and tells me I was saying I wanted to remember as much as possible, but nothing is really clear past the moment I expressed anxiety about the process of the spinal block. There are fragments. I think I remember being wheeled down the hall and into the actual OR, but it’s really fuzzy.

From my perspective, I blinked, and I was waking up in the recovery area, mildly confused. The same nurse saw me and said “Yep, it’s all over! You did fine!” I should note that, surgically speaking, it really WAS a blink, because as mentioned above a THR is now routinely a sub-2-hour process. That blows my mind, but I could see a clock from my bed and it was only about 10:30AM at this point, and by then I was lucid enough to, well, look at a clock and remember the time.

I ate ice chips for 90 minutes or so as they monitored me, & especially my blood pressure, and by noon they were wheeling me into a private recovery room where Erin was waiting.

IMG 3253

Now the full court press started: a THR is now an outpatient procedure, so the goal was to get me out the door before EOD. However, for that to happen, a series of medical providers had to visit, and I had to meet certain postsurgical milestones.

I was visited by — in keeping with the happily-still-lingering season — THREE POSTSURGICAL GHOSTS:

  • THE GHOST OF PUTTING ON YOUR SOCKS WITHOUT BENDING OVER: an occupational therapist, who walked me through the aides I’d be sent home with (more later) to work around my immediate movement limitations;
  • THE GHOST OF PERPETUAL EXHALATION: a pulmonary person of some sort, who instructed me on the World’s Worst Bong aka the Incentive Spirometer — instruction I didn’t actually need, since this wasn’t my first rodeo with an I.S (it was, however, fun the be able to peg the thing; turns out I do still have some residual cardio fitness);
  • THE GHOST OF “FUCK IT LET’S MAKE HIM WALK:” a physical therapist, who got me up and WALKING (using a wheeled walker) while I’m pretty sure my lower half was still drunk — I know for a FACT I was still tipsy from anesthesia because I was struggling to articulate myself with her, which made the whole thing frustrating despite also being successful.

BTW, let me tell you it’s super weird to stand up on a new hip joint and realize that, while you DO have pain — after all, they just CUT YOU OPEN AND EDITED YOUR SKELETON — it’s an entirely different pain, and the pain that’s plagued you for a year from the joint’s deterioration is now gone.

And the whole while the milestones loomed. I had to

  • Eat. To that end, I was given the World’s Saddest Sandwich and chips, which was weirdly cruel since with drugs still in my system the combo of “untoasted white bread” and “cottonmouth” was deeply unfun. Even so, eating post-surgery is required because of the number of people who have postsurgical nausea problems. I do not.
  • Drink. Same song, different verse. I drank SO MUCH WATER that afternoon, owing I suppose to my assiduous adherence to the presurgical protocol of no food/drink after 9pm the previous night. Normally, I drink a LOT of water, so I was definitely dehydrated — which, of course, complicated the final milestone…
  • PEE, because postsurgical kidney function is a thing, too.

I didn’t pee until probably 3:30, but once I had it was as if someone with a mighty clipboard had made the final tickmark, and the Great Medical Machine began the process of disgorging me back to the real world.

The chief complicating factor of this entire affair was the fact that, owing the scar tissue from the entry points of the initial 2014 repair, my surgeon had to do a posterior approach instead of the more modern and apparently less invasive anterior approach. This is all fancy medical jargon, but what it means is “where do you unzip Chet to swap out the parts.” With anterior, the incision would be just inside the relevant hip bone, and down into your groin, but, as stated, this was off the table.

Instead, we went posterior which was through, well, my posterior. (It actually wraps around to the outside of my leg, but that’s the term.) With this approach, enough of the muscular structure is disturbed that there is a real risk of dislocating the implant early on, so my main admonition is DO NOT BEND AT THE WAIST, TWIST, or OTHERWISE STRESS THAT JOINT for at least 6 weeks.

I follow instructions super well, so that’s what we’re doing. Plus, it comes with benefits, such as an insurance-provided long-handled claw grabber that I promise I have not goosed Erin with more than once or twice.

However, in the immediate surgical aftermath, when worries were highest, Erin realized that our sporty little VW was very low to the ground indeed, so she called our neighbor and local Taco Saint Mallory. They have two taller vehicles, so Mallory braved 5:00 traffic to drive over and pick me up in their Grand Cherokee, which was much more comfortable. Then, upon arrival at home, we realized that Mal had also brought a Giant Bag of Tacos in his capacity as a Taco Magnate — along with a paloma for Erin, which was well deserved indeed.

The long and short of it is that the whole affair lasted about twelve hours — the nighttime pic above was taken at 4:53AM; I was at home in my lounge chair by 5PM, taco and Athletic Brewing Free Wave NA IPA in hand. Hilariously, by about 6 I had nodded off in the chair and spilled about 15% of said near-beer, but on a day that could’ve had a shitton more unpleasant mishaps, I’ll take it.