BrumCon07 – lunch

. . . continuing in too much detail . . .
After the first talk, came the Break for lunch. I took advantage of the gap to do my sound check. While I was trying to do it, three teens, two boys and a girl, approached me to mock me for using a mac. About half the computers that were used on the stage were macs, actually, a number that surprised me. I was somewhat annoyed with the teens as I was trying to do a sound check. They told me that they liked to spend their free time going to the Apple store to start arguments. Part of what was especially amusing / annoying is that I had exactly the same attitude at their age! I also liked getting into arguments with mac users! Gah, karma!
Mac users are fun to argue with because they’re so religious about their computers. But, of course, it was completely different when I used to do it. Because it was me and anything I do is justifiable because I do it.
When I was a young’un, PCs ran DOS and Macs ran MacOS. If you liked to do strange things to the operating system on your computer or to type rather than mouse around and generally try to cause small disasters, DOS was way better. Really. It was so clear at the time. Looking back, though, I’ve lost a lot of certainty. But, now Windoze is the hugest piece of crap ever excreted from a software company and OS X is unix.
I explained that when I started doing Pro Audio, linux’s support for it was not adequate and it’s gotten better lately, but I’m still on a mac. I also said that I was born and raised in Cupertino, California, so it was the home team for me. And anyway, it’s unix, it’s not like I’m running windows or something. “It’s BSD” the girl said, as the boys seemed confused by unix != linux. And I wondered why the right speaker was silent. They regrouped, it was the BSD that nobody wanted, shoved out the backdoor. I became satisfactorily annoyed and they wandered off. I went to find food ASAP, to become less peeved.
This was too funny. Anyway, for the record, there are some pieces of software which are not implemented well in FOSS, including score notation. I need to run mac or win to run Sibelius. And I’m sure as hell not going to run windows. Unix is better than Windows. Any Unix is better than any windows.
OS X does have a kind of reject history, though. It started out life as the Mach Kernel, invented at Carnegie Mellon. That kernel was not BSD, but was faster because it emulated BSD in an efficient manner. NeXT used it for NeXTSTEP, their weird operating system. This OS was used in some minor advances in Information Technology, like the invention of HTTP (aka, the World Wide Web). The first web server ran on what would become on OS X. MAX was invented on NeXTSTEP. Along with many other things. It’s hard to overstate how fucking cool NeXT boxes were when they first came out. By the time I got a job being a sysadmin on a NeXT cluster, though, the glory had faded completely and NeXT OS was about to die. It had such obvious faults. Like the totally proprietary windowing system. Why didn’t they just use X windows like everybody else?
Steve Jobs founded NeXT, so when he came back into Apple, he killed the plans to use the (far superior) BeOS, and switched directions so that the new OS would be NeXTSTEP. It’s fortunate that this did not turn into a disaster, since it certainly looked like one from the outside. Anyway, OS X is a respectable OS with a respectable history. Although it still has a propreitary window manger. bah.

BrumCon 07 – Morning

Yesterday was BrumCon07(.5). It was supposed to be in October, but was delayed. They plan to also have a BrumCon08 next October. So, when I arrived, I expected complete disorganization, but this was not the case at all. I plugged in all of my cables in the morning, but didn’t get to do a sound check right away as they were showing Pink Panther cartoons, which were the cause of much hilarity.
The room would probably have been slightly too big for my monitor speakers. But, during the Pink Panther cartoons, it was clear that something was deeply amiss with the PA. The MGM lion roar was deafening, and the incidental music and dialog was barely audible. The bass levels might have been perfect for a dance party. But then when people started talking, later, with a mic, it was ok sounding. I was concerned, but not alarmed.
The first talk was about hacker stereotypes and hacker ethics. The speaker had been famous when he was a teen for being Britain’s youngest (arrested) hacker. At 13, he was committing credit card fraud to feed his family. He didn’t divulge too many details, but it sounded as if his parent(s) had drug problems and neglected him. He had a computer, though. At 13, he couldn’t get a job, but he could use stolen credit cards to get groceries delivered to his house. He got arrested and tried for that. I think this would have been a really good time for social services to step in. I know we English speakers are very keen to punish everybody and make sure that people who do wrong suffer harm. But really, in this case, a kid stealing money for food? That’s a good time to look at food stamps (or whatever they’re called here) and foster care and whatnot.
Incidentally, this is why it’s not entirely unfair for Americans to think of the UK as being set in Dickens novel. (Just like you lot think we’re a cowboy movie.) Because leaving a kid in that situation is Oliver Twist like. Really, everybody, social services are good things. They help people get their lives together. They give a smart kid a future. But no, the British state sent him back home, where he kept doing credit card fraud, eventually getting less altruistic about it, until the point where, as an adult, he stole £750000 ($1.5 million) by breaking into unsecured e-commerce servers and now has an adult prison record for hacking.
Alas, he fails to distinguish between his actions at 13 and his actions at 18. Anything he did was justified simply because he did it. Now tech companies are reluctant to hire him and this is totally unfair!! Right, step 1, lose the attitude. The banks he broke into, let him fix their problems for them. The movie Catch Me If You Can was based on the memoirs of a kid who did a lot of fraud and then started working for banks. That’s probably the best future for this kid. But seriously, what’s putting people off as much as the prison record, is the whiny, self-righteous attitude. You don’t have to actually be sorry about breaking into wide-open servers. But you could perhaps try to create that impression?
I think morally, there’s a big difference between ripping off a bank and ripping off a person. Breaking into a server hosted in somebody’s living room is different than breaking into a small company’s colo, is different than breaking into a big company’s server farm. The bigger the target, the less moral trouble, imo. This didn’t come up at all, even in a discussion about the morality/ehtics of breaking in. I would think the Robin Hood model would be fundamental to such a morally murky area.
So the speaker was whining about how his juvenile record is permanently available via Google. Which is why newspapers shouldn’t reveal the names of minors convicted of crimes. It’s meaningless to seal juvenile records if it’s going to be so easy to find them. The speaker seemed to think he was special in this regard. Imagine a group of people whose private business and embarrassing past was so easily available to anybody with a computer! Why, that’s never happened to any sensitive minority group ever before! I can’t think of a single other highly obvious example!
Yeah, I’m starting to have mixed feelings about search engines. Google has taken over a lot of government functions in the Silicon Valley. But this particular function is one that has more home in a police state than the benevolent, Medici-esque system that California and Google seem to be blundering in to.
More later . . .

I arrived 8 or 9 minutes late

Ok, I wasn’t exactly on top of things. So I waited until I was about to run out of T to call. What do I do if they say no? And then I waited to come in with my passport. How long am I willing to go off of T? And I arrived a few minutes late for my appointment. How many months am I willing to wait again?
I showed up before the cutoff time, but I wasn’t fully registered with the office for some reason because they needed to see my passport. Which I had with me when I came to register initially, but which they hadn’t asked to see then. The front desk woman scolded me. I’ll have to make another appointment. She was the same person who took my registration originally. Who acted uncomfortable when I asked if the doctor could refill my T prescription or if I would be referred out of office. What is the process in this country? “I don’t know. You need to talk to the doctor.” This is the closest office to the school. Could I really be the only transitioning student in my entire university?
She took my passport and disappeared into the back room for several minutes. I chatted a bit with the other, friendlier woman behind the counter. “Maybe you should try to make afternoon appointments,” she wisely suggested. Finally, her more dour colleague returned and handed me my passport. “I’ve had to register you as a female.” she said, as if I had been trying to pull something. I shrugged. I know I still require pelvic exams and whatnot. “Fair enough.” I said. She was annoyed. “You tried to put down both.” What I put down was “ftm.” Can somebody in a doctors office really not know what ftm means? There are thousands of students at my uni. Percentage wise, trans people are only a few per thousand, but there should be a half a dozen of us at the very least. “Ftm” is not both, it’s a specific designation relating to what health services that I require and the identity I need respected. No, I did not just put on my paperwork “I am a freaky person trying to make your life difficult” but thanks for treating me that way.
She went on, still dour. “You’ll have to re-book. We have nothing for the next week. Call up every morning at 8:45 to see if we have anything for that day.” Oh shit. “Ok” I said. What the hell else am I going to say? The other, friendlier desk person finished her phone call and suddenly noticed I was leaving. “Wait, do you want to schedule a new appointment?” she called after me. I looked back questioningly. Her dour colleague answered, “No, I’ve just told her to call in the mornings.”
Is the doctor going to be like this too? Is it the whole office? Is it just this one person? Can I find another office? When I run out of T on thursday, when will I be able to get more? Am I going to be able to get an appointment in the next two weeks? Are they going to make me go get a therapist letter? Will I have to wait to get on the calendar of an endocrinologist? Is there a way to scam more T without going through the proper legal channels?
But, I have to be fair. I’m prepared to concede that it’s my fault that I was turned away from the doctor’s office this morning. They phoned me a week ago to say that they needed to see my passport and I didn’t bring it until I arrived a few minutes late this morning. (I did try to bring it on Good Friday, but they were closed until this morning.)
I have no love for the medical profession. I can recall every single time that a doctor treated me like a full person. It works out to about five of them. Maybe 6. I want to go on to make a claim about how I’m in a special class in this regard and how the very job description of a doctor is a promotion of normativity in bodies – to force them to conform to a state we call “health,” (which is a system that can work well for the promotion of well-being in already normative bodies and uses of said bodies). I want to say that doctors abhor queers because queerness – a non-normative use of the body – is uncomfortably close to ill health. It’s something to be diagnosed, treated and stamped out. But, alas, I don’t think I’m in a special class. The perfect patient is one who is already well, already normal. If you can’t or won’t have the ideal weight, if you won’t conform in that regard, then you’ve already spurred part of what the doctor is offering you. If you don’t want this part of the normativity, why should ze offer you any of it? I’ve seen how doctors treated my mom while she was dying. I overheard them, years earlier, driving her towards an eating disorder while they obsessed about her weight. I’ve heard the stories of people with disabilities. I’m not special. If your doctor treats you like a full person, then you are the one in the special class. Everybody else here is just somehow refusing doctor’s orders. Not skinny. Not physically able. Not young. Not physically male. Abnormal and untreatably so.
Forced by circumstance, they’re willing to concede very specific circumstances in which one may escape portions of normativity, in exchange for more fully conforming to other ones. There’s a set drama that is required to unfold in the treatment of transsexuality. It usually starts with a GP and then is referred on from there. Sometimes, like in the US, GPs will prescribe hormones. If their office allows it. If they feel like it. They might just say it’s against policy when it’s not and then act really uncomfortable and shoo you out. If your GP won’t do it, if you are less fortunate that I was, you get sent through a set of people who are supposed to talk you out of it. It’s a really lovely system. I hope to see it more widely introduced. “Oh, um, well, what makes you so certain you need eyeglasses? Have you always had trouble seeing? How do you know this isn’t just a phase? Sorry, if you were serious about needing glasses, you wouldn’t have arrived dressed that way.”
I’ve had enough doctors act visibly repulsed by my sexual orientation and gender non-conformity that I’m still surprised when they treat me like a person. It’s not what I expect. If I need to come in to get a hormone prescription refill in a new country, of course they’re going to look for a reason to say no. And what then? What do I do then?


There’s a line of retailers in Selly Oak, on Bristol Road, across from the Sainbury’s. And they’re apparently all victims of a terrible melancholy. Perhaps it’s the environment. Their shops look dodgy and dangerous, but they’re not. They just need a new paint job. And just a bit behind them, is an abandoned industrial site, complete with a smokestack, which somehow has managed to be the only part of it not decommissioned or torn town. It emits a blackish grunge which settles onto the wrecked piles of bricks below.
Birmingham is not a cheery looking place. It must have been much worse in the past. But even now, it’s gray and damp and rainy. The city buses get so covered with soot and worn looking that they don’t seem to belong in the first world. For all of America’s infrastructure problems, we seem to have nicer buses than the British midlands.
The shopkeepers sit inside their dirty, unpainted, dodgy looking shops, watching the flithy buses going by and the mad car drivers, who sometimes go at high speeds on the sidewalk. And as they sit, the soot gradually creeps in to their persons.
So when I go to ask the pet shop about boarding or ID tags, I get stories of stolen pets held for ransom. When I go to ask the bike shop about getting a tune up for my bike, after a sidewalk-driving car nearly ran down the proprietor, I also got doom and gloom. Nobody in this country can possibly work on my bike, because it’s Dutch. Why, he had a customer once who broke a gear. The gears on those bikes are enclosed in the back tire. He had to order the part from Germany. It was going to cost £300 for the part. She ended up deciding to scrap the bike.
$600 for a new gear? Yeah, I would decide to scrap the bike too, since that’s the price for a brand, spanking new mid-level Dutch bike. Maybe his problem is that he was ordering Dutch parts from Germany. I know Brits have some confusion about countries on the continent. (As an American, I’m hardly able to point fingers here.) But, trust me on this, the Netherlands and Germany are separate countries. For £300, I will personally take your bike to Holland, and get it fixed for you. For that much, I ought to be able to pay transit costs, stay in a fairly nice hotel and get the repair done. Well, actually, transit might be a bit more pricey. Stupid British Rail.
But what price conformity? That bike is foreign, in every sense of the term, and thus it’s right and appropriate that you pay a penalty for trying to ride it and get it repaired. “Why did you buy a bike like that?” The shopkeeper asked. Because I lived in Holland. Because it’s a great bike. He warned me that many bike shops would say they’d done work on the enclosed parts, but not actually do it. For X’s sake, I just wanted it greased and the brakes adjusted, but I have a tool shortage. So I bought some grease and I hope my pocket knife has enough tools to fix the front brakes.
So I went to the park to walk Xena. I go around the same time every day and have a nice walk and chat with the senior citizens of my area, which I quite enjoy. Yesterday, they were looking for the new bird houses. Selly Oak Bird House They had been on a campaign to get the city to hang houses for song birds, owls and bats and other native species, to provide them with extra habitat. The bird houses had just been hung the day before. It took 8 months to get the grants to do it, but finally all the work had paid off.
The houses were not custom built or anything, why had they needed to apply for so much money? Well, they needed to pay the person who hung them up and also insurance! A bat house could fall on somebody! It had to be properly insured! What if somebody got injured?!
From now on, I’m going to be more forceful about disagreeing when Brits start telling anecdotes about how Americans are lawsuit-happy or insular. First of all, the McDonalds coffee burn woman was given coffee that was 80° C, in a paper cup. She needed skin grafts, in a country with no national health, where half of people can’t even buy insurance, and her original goal was just to get McDonalds to sell non-scalding coffee and they refused – after she’d learned that several people were badly burned every year. But you – you have to get insurance on bird houses and can’t possibly fix a bike from a country less than an hour away by plane.

Drunk Blogging

Whee, I’ve reached my magic limit of three units of alcohol, but I have not groped any women. I have achieved this by mostly avoiding them. I am pissed though, sicne I hadn’t had dinner and a packet of crisps didn’t do much to sober me up.

Things I love: riding a giant dutch bike through the British midlands in the middle fo the night. I rode home along the old industrial canal. IT’s bleak. Nex tto the train lines. Smokestacks along side. Victorian bricks. They’ve tried to make it sort of recreational by carving out a narrow path, but it’s still got a bleak quality. There’s no lights along it. When I went out to the CBSO center for the concert, I had only my little headlight to show me the way. Drunk, on the way back, I had the 3/4s moon.
Apparently, a student fell into the canal within recent memory. On his bike. I found this news to be something of a relief. The path is narrow and a bit treacherous in parts and the wind blows and I worry about falling into the canal. But more, I worry about the shame of falling into the canal. It’s much better to know I wouldn’t be the first.
A nice thing about Brits is that when you’re drunk, you’re drunk. They don’t seem to imagine that your sober behavior and your drunk behavior are overly correlated. As in, you can be stupid and they’ll say, “oh, he’s a stupid drunk” vs America, where they seem to say, “oh he’s a stupid person.”
The concert: I went to see the Birmingham University New Music Ensemble play at CBSO, which is in central Brum. The ensemble seems to have been misnamed. It shoudl ahve been called the Birmingham Bombastic Post War Ensemble. One one of the compoers played is still alive and he’s in his mid 70’s. The rest are dead. And many of the players were from the conservatory and not from the university.
I was feeling very charitable about the whole thing. University students aren’t conservatory students. They also have to take language classes, maths, general ed, etc. So you can’t expect them to play overly complicated bombastic pieces on the same level as professionals or conservatory students. . . but some fo the groupings were more than 50% conservatory. So, um. Everything ended very strongly. Everything started weakly. They played a Varese piece twice. At the start of the first half and the start of the second half. I was afriad to shout “encore” or they might play it a third time. I look forward to a concert of nothing but that piece over and over again.
It’s a nice piece. They were a lot more confident the second time and it wa much improved. The siren could have been louder. But, where the first time was overly nervous, the second time was a little too relaxed or sloppy or something. Some of the players weren’t trying as hard the second time. I want people to have fun when they play, I mean it is called “playing”, but being serious is also good.
Anyway, it was very student-y, but a good ude of my time. A big otivator for going was to figure out what I could write for the kids and expect them to be able to play without fucking up too much. If they can convisincingly muddle through Varese, then I can throw a lot at them and expect them to get it right. So this was encouraging in that respect.
Another motivator is the post-concert socializing. I like Brum more when I get out more. But my poor liver. Tomorrow is compass forum (our weird name for colloquium), which involves a pint afterwards. Thursday is SBLUG, the Linux group, which involves a pint.
Then comes easter weekend, which is a 4 day weekend and a real holiday here. Which makes me a little sad, because easter was my mom’s favorite holiday.
Monday, there’s a big anti-war protest and some nuke thing, which I’ll be going to. N o nukes! I love demonstrations. Tuesday, I finally got a doctor’s appointment, so hopefully, I can get more T without having to miss a shot, although my plan to do the next shot early isn;t going to happen. I’ll just be on low T levels for this cycle. It’s fucking weird getting a major hormone this way. Like, wouldn;’t it be great if I had some sort of self-regulating system that produced it in high enough levels? Balls. I wish I had balls. I never thought I would wish such a thing.
And speaking of my odd desire to be sporting testicles, a women’s glossy mag is interviewing me about being trans. I don’t think the magazine is in the US. Of course, I’m doing this for the chance to educate people. Not everybody who transitions knows at age 5. It’s ok to not be sure. It’s ok to not be 100% binary. Yeah. No, I’m doing it for the photo shoot. they’re going to dress me in designer clothes and take my picture in London. No. actually, I’m doing it for the money. I’m getting paid for this. I don’t think this will be like a daytime talk show or something. Vanity: a “fab photo shoot” and coins.
I hate coming out to people. It’s very stressful. This way, I won’t have to. Those old ladies in the dog park are bound to read women’s glossies.
Speaking of coming out. Being around hot women and passing . . .. New experience. Of course, I have a lovely gf who is far away and I miss. But, it’s an issue that might one day might come out. Hi, I think you’re hot and would like to kiss you. Now I would like to inform you, before we have sex, that I don’t have a penis and I used to be a lesbian. That’s what coming out is now. Hi! No penis!
I mean, fuck.
Oh, and the other reason I’m doing this magazine thing is really mature of me. I got in a dumbass flame war with some transdude on the internet about the article in last sunday’s nyt. I thought it was ok. I have low expetations for the times. They used the right pronouns throughout. They didn’t feel like they had to disclose everybody’s former name. They referenced Judith Halberstam. That’s not terrible. I’ve seen worse. It’s something I can forward to my dad without upsetting or confusing him too much. But the main guy in the article was kind of a drama king. I mean, he was 18 or 19. College kids are full of drama. That’s life. But a bunch o internet trans dudes, were talking about how non-binary guys need to stfu. So, yeah, I’m going to be in a glossy magazine because I’m annoyed at a stranger on the internet.
Meh. You know what I hate about articles about ftms? The part where they talk about how it might be dangerous. There’s no fucking evidence to suggest that it is dangerous. Yeah, the long term consequences are kind of unknown, we’ve only been doing this for about the same amount of time that het cis women have been taking the pill. Could you imagine that everytime you read an article on the pill they talked about how it carried unknown health risks? You’d think this statement had nothing to do with the pill’s risks. You’d think it would have to do with wanting to discourage people from taking it. This is the same thing, but on a more unconscious level. It’s so transgressive, it OBVOIUSLY must be dangerous. It couldn;t possibly be harmless and easy to change your sex. It MUST be risky and intense and hard.
I also hate the idea that I’m supposed to like suffer a lot before anybody wants to help me out. Like, if you possibly can get through life without transition, then you should. Yeah, and if you can sort of see where you’re going, you dfon’t need glasses. Glasses are only for the REALLY blind. Not you. You don’t deserve them. We only do LASIK for people who’ve had 32 hours of therapy and have tried every other option. We don’t give meds to depressed people, because we don’t want to medicalize, um, mental illness. No, medical intervention is only the LAST RESORT on every other aspect of life, so it makes sense that thre’s an idea that trans folks shouldn’t have access. Oh, no, wait.

Let’s see, what other stupid ranting do I have left in me? Last night I dreamt tht I awoke this mornig to find a dark, full, curly beard on my face. Everybody around me was amazed that it had come in so suddenly. It looked fake, though. The 5 or 6 hairs I’m sprouting on my chin now, irl, are all kind of reddish. yay.
I’ve been having a series of dream about a recumbant, tandem trike that can be reconfigured into an inflatible canoe with a sail and pedal power. I’m goin to get it built in real life somehow. I don’t know how. It will be carbon fiber for weight. At the back, there’s a platform for holding the inflatible parts, other cargo and the dog. Maybe a sort of a ball joint, so it can turn tighter? I will find a way to make it happen!
Lately, I kind of suck at saving money. Everything here is really fucking expensive. I do the math and am horrified by the prices. but as the dollar goes into freefall, the prices are actually higher here every day. I feel like I should spend my money quickly while it still has any value at all. Quick buy Tv dinner while you still can!

Managing Extremes

Puberty . . . wow. I won’t say that being 20 years older than last time isn’t making it easier, because it is. But getting used to a really different hormonal situation still takes some time to get used to it, like probably several months. In the mean time, I’m kind of feeling at extremes. I’m not neutral about much of anything. Things are either amazingly great or the worst fucking thing ever. Sometimes my mind can change on whether something’s fantastic or awful within a a very few moments. It’s emotionally exciting and as such is completely awesome! It totally fucking sucks!
I try to moderate my responses when I’m around people, and this actually helps keep them moderated. So I’m trying to get out more. Also, music helps. My appetite for loud, angry punk rock has recently re-emerged. And, again similar to my youth, making music helps a lot. Even esoteric, algorithm driven, computer pieces that sort of play themselves. They almost help more because of the emotional detachment necessary to get them working, but the need for emotionality in evaluating the results. It’s like slowly releasing pressure from a canister.
Although, it doesn’t sound like slowly releasing pressure from a canister. It sounds like the canister has just fucking exploded and killed three people. Or something. Yesterday morning, I was actually shaking the music building. I feel a little guilty about that, because the studios are supposed to be soundproofed, but I kind of forgot about how low frequencies will travel through soundproofing and through walls and apparently disturb a class next door. Oops. My supervisor came by afterwards to see what was going on, mentioning only once his class was over that it had been hard for them to hear. Oops. He left, telling me to “rock on.” So maybe it’s ok in moderation, as long as I don’t disturb all his classes?
I could get night hours and not disturb other people, but then I would lose all the value of interacting with other people. Valuable interactions like, “what are you doing??” and “I feel sorry for your ears.”
A couple of years ago, Brum got a gigantic grant of something like £500000 to buy speakers and fix up the studios. And they did a great job. We can gig with well over a hundred discrete audio channels and speakers. It boggles the mind. When I was a wild and crazy youth, I really wanted to have a million dollars worth of speakers and A/D converters. Think of all the things you could do! But my laptop only has stereo outs, and it turns out that if you have 8 or 16 or N number of speakers, you have to carry them and all the cables and everything, so I learned to love stereo. I don’t think that I had a real idea of what to do with 60 speakers then, and I really don’t now. I mean 60 speakers! You can do it just to show off your vast speaker wealth (and thus how incredibly sexy you must be), but I think it’s better to justify it somehow. The piece you do with 60 speakers should really need that many of them. My colleagues all succeed at this, but I want to work within my pre-existing vocabulary of very artificial sounds. If you’re using recordings of water drops, you can just send a bunch to the upper left side and then that part of the audience feels like you’re going to drip on them. But what do you with sine tones?
Well, obviously what you do with sine tones is to come up with something that will hurt the audience! You assault them with sine tones! Out of tune, slowly phasing low frequencies shaking you from every direction! Muahahahaha.
I think I want to do an installation. There’s a lot of hierarchy and social control inherent in the concert hall paradigm. People come in before everything starts, sit quietly and appreciate your music, clap at the end and the shuffle back out when everything is finished. But 60 or 100 speakers really creates a physical space. There’s no one sweet spot in the middle where everything sounds best. There’s sounds coming from every direction. If you’re close to one particular speaker, that’s entirely different than being in the center or at another edge. I don’t want to dictate to people how long they should listen or where they should listen or how they should listen (or if they should bother at all). I’d like to give them something that slowly evolves over several minutes and gradually returns to it’s starting state and then re-evolves. That kind of music requires a patience that I don’t want to enforce. I don’t want to make people wait it out if they’re not drawn in on their own. I don’t want to tell them them what to do. Of course, anything presented has some hierarchy, it’s inescapable. I’ve got control of the speakers and they don’t. But it does have a slightly more anarchist edge to it when they don’t have to just sit and suffer through if they don’t want to.
So I want to hurt people, but in a non-heirachical, listener-empowering fashion. I can’t decide if that’s the most fucking stupid contradiction ever, or the most fascinating idea to ever emerge from the academy.

Ways to Meet People and Improve My Social Life

Yeah, I don’t know if it’s technically possible to “improve” something that doesn’t exist. I have school stuff once a week and everybody tends to go the pub afterwards and chats for an hour or so. And that’s it. Oh, and I meet my supervisor every other week. So basically, on Wednesday, I speak with people. And for a few minutes in the afternoons when i walk Xena in the park. the rest of the week, I turn down the heater and avoid my housemates who want to know why it’s so cold in the house. (“Because it’s winter” is not an answer. Anyway. I’m a bad housemate.)
Today, I took Xena to the vet. We got to take a nice long walk. And when I got there, I got to speak with the receptionists and the vet and there was joking around. The British sense of humor is fantastic. But, alas, it’s probably not a good long term plan to hang around the vet’s office. Although, I have to return in three weeks to get the second course of shots for Xena. She’s got a shiny new RFID chip and her limping is caused by arthritis. Because she’s old. But I can take her to the continent in May and back in June and it shouldn’t be a problem.
On the way home I walked past a Quaker meeting house. I’d never seen an actual, dedicated brick building for them. I went to take a closer look. It had a bust of a member of the Cadbury family on the side of it. (Cadbury’s candy company is based in Birmingham, something that would have brought me great joy as a child if I’d known I’d one day live her. Also, they have giant goose-egg sized cream eggs in the grocery store. Which I really don’t want to eat, but I feel like a traitor to myself at age 8 if I don’t, since I thought this was the highest form of food item that anyone could ever want. Anyway.) So I went to take a picture of the Cadbury bust and a woman came out to ask me what I was doing tromping around the outside of her meeting house. She explained that it had been built by the Cadbury family, as, indeed, had been most of the village surrounding. Most of the cottages had been built to house chocolate factory workers. It sounds quite a bit like industrial serfdom – the benefacting owner gives homes and worship places to adequately docile workers. And in exchange, they put a bust of him on the church, or rather, he does it. I said he must have been very humble to put a bust of himself on the church. Apparently, I haven’t quite got the hang of the British sense of humor.
This could be a way to meet other folks my age. Church! Except I have a hard time believing that the universe was created by a sentient being who can read my mind and cares deeply whether or not I masturbate. This weeds out most religions, including the gay churches like the MCC. Does those even exist in the UK? But Quakers! I could become a Quaker, since they don’t believe in anything either, right? I explained to the woman how much I respect and admire the peace activism of Quakers in the US. So she started explaining some differences between American and English Quakers. This particular meeting house has an organ and a preacher. Which sounds alarmingly hierarchical, although I do like the organ. I need a religion of anarchist atheists.
Or, I could just join an anarchist group. (Stop making bad jokes and go read up on the political philosophy. Sheesh.) When and where do they meet? Do they have a webpage? Maybe there’s a student group?
My uni is huge. There’s three banks that I know of on campus. Two grocery stores. Three bars. That I know of, and I’m not very familiar with the campus. I was scoping out the web page for the Guild of Students and they said they serve the very large post grad population. (“Post grad” is British for “grad student.”) So when the LGBTQ group said they were having a movie, I decided to go. February was Queer History Month in the UK. Don’t they know that’s for Black people? I’m sensing a trend where when a country is grudgingly forced to admit that a despised minority has been integral to their development, they give them the shortest month of the year. So I went to the movie and was the oldest person in the room by several years. Chatting with 18 year olds does make me less lonely, but I dunno. I didn’t talk much, actually. I was a mysterious, older foreign man. The women acted fascinated by me. The movie was cosponsored by the Jewish group, so I don’t know if they were queer or not, but the respect they immediately afforded me was a bit disconcerting. Or maybe I was totally misreading it and they wondered why this older, um, guy(?) had wandered in.
Ok, so maybe not student organizations, so much. Or, at least, not primarily.
But the answer is obvious. The local music scene! Institutes of higher ed are so funny in that they tend to be right in the middle of a thriving local arts scene -that they’re totally disconnected from. So how do I get connected?

Life in England


This is the first time in my life that I’ve lived with housemates not of my choosing. I mean, I didn’t have anything against them when I met them, but it was really the only house I could get with a dog and our meeting was all of 5 minutes before I signed a rental contract. I kind of prefer it when I know the folks ahead of time.
When I got back to England, the internet had been turned off and several past-due bills had arrived for it, the kitchen light was burned out and the shower was broken and my housemates were bathing with a bucket. This was a week ago. The first thing I did after sleeping was call up and get the internet turned back on. The next thing I did was call the letting agency and ask them if they knew about the shower. They did. Some part needs replacing. My February rent hadn’t arrived yet, so I didn’t press the matter, but that’s next on my list. Today, I went and bought a new kitchen lightbulb and replaced it. Apparently, my housemates are ok with living in the dark with no running water and no internet? I don’t know how long the kitchen light has been out, but I’ve been back for over a week now. Oh, and I think I’m the first person in the last several months to clean the lint thingee in the dryer, which has not been much help as it smells like burning hair whenever anybody runs it. Also, while I’m whining, the heater really does not need to be turned up to 22 – 25 degrees at night (mid 70’s for you ‘merikans). Sheesh.
One of my housemates likes to tell me what to do. He ends all of his minisermons with a reminder of the importance of thinking of others. Last night, he was complaining because I walk too loudly(!) and it wakes him up. He reminded me to think of others. . . says the guy who woke up at 4:30 am on Friday morning and started playing dance music. Says the guy who gets up at 6:00 am and whistles. Says the guy who I told to fuck off. Since I have nothing better to do at 4:30 AM then try to fall back asleep and imagine what the heck is wrong with him, I think he must be very rich in Nigeria. I mean, he can afford to study in England. He must have had an army of nannies trying in vain to tell him to think of others, but since he was never actually required to do so, what he learned was that when somebody bugs you, that’s what you tell them.
I have a new housemate also. He likes Xena, so I think he must be ok. But sometime while I was gone, everybody got very habitual about locking the doors to their rooms. I imagine that he’s a thief, but I don’t think so. He told me what country he was form and I hadn’t heard of it. The Gambia is a tiny sliver cut out of Senegal, surrounding the Gambia river.
I am so not out to my housemates.


In other news, ever coffee machine that I know of at the uni is out of service. Every single one of them! I imagine it’s some sort of nascent AI on a wildcat strike, demanding that their drip trays be emptied.
I volunteered to record a small ensemble piece composed by another student. My social life is in kind of dire straits since returning from England. I went from California, having tens of contacts I could call on a whim in my mobile to having only my supervisor in England. So recording for this student sort of forces her to get a beer with me later. Also, I’m hoping it makes me look better than just being the incredible disappearing postgrad. I went last night to school to figure out the software that I would be using this morning. It’s just another DAW, and they’re all more or less the same, but it’s often bad form to be reading the getting started guide at a session. As I arrived at school, I realized I couldn’t recall the alarm code, so I called my supervisor. He asked me about preparing for the session and said he’d be there at 8:30 to unload gear. I was surprised, since it was Sunday night. In one hour? Did he need help unloading?
Yeah, he meant 8:30 this morning, but he didn’t hear me ask “in one hour?” and I didn’t hear him say “in the morning.” He told me the (new) alarm code, but I couldn’t get the damn door open. A security guard, who clearly thought I was nuts, told me I needed a key. I waited until 9:30 for my supervisor to arrive and them went home. (Note that I was working on my laptop while waiting, although I was hungry and grumpy.)
He called me at 8 this morning to ask why I had called him 4 more times last night. meh. Later, I spoke to him and his more senior colleague. Oh yeah, two weeks ago they decided to hand out keys, in case of power failure. His colleague was looking at me funny. Was it because I had waited on a Sunday night and that was clearly nuts? Or was it the trans thing? I felt awkward and studied.
Before the session, I tried to buy coffee and the rehearsal hall, but the machine was broken. The guys behind the front desk were laughing about it and joking around in general. They kept calling me “he,” like, “Tea? Don’t be so British! Tell him where to find coffee!” It’s so weird to pass.
Anyway, I spent the first part of the session reading the getting started guide while the composer rehearsed the ensemble. I think the recording went ok. I taped 4 full takes and visually, the levels looked pretty good, especially on the last one. I think the piano was sort of getting everywhere, into everybody’s mic, but there’s not much to be done about that. I imagine the piano like a big splattery, wet oozing thing that gets everywhere.
After breaking down all the gear, I went to my bank and happily discovered that I still have account there. I let them photocopy my visa and they promised me a debit card within a week. Then, I went to the ID card folks. My ID card said “Ms Hutchins on it, and, well, I don’t want to be in the closet or anything, but, uh, yeah. I felt trepidation, but I went to the desk and explained that I was transgender and didn’t want any kind of title on my card, just my name. The woman behind the counter didn’t hesitate or seem taken aback at all, but just made me a new card. Would I like it to just have my two first initials and my last name? Perfect. And she didn’t charge me for the card. And it works on all the card lock doors I have access to (which now also require a key, because this country is nothing if not prudent and cautious.)
It’s not like I’ve written any music or anything, but I feel very productive today.

I haz a Xena!!

Hooray, Xena just got dropped off!
When I got her back, first thought was, “she’s gotten fat again.” Second thought was, “What’s that smell?” Third thought was, “augh, she needs a bath.”
She was all awag. Apparently, I still smell enough like myself that she recognized me instantly. I was worried that my lower voice and higher testosterone levels would confuse her, and maybe they do, but she still knows me. Hooray.
So I took her to the park. On the way back, she jumped into the street in front of a car. They drive on the wrong side of the street, so it was only after I pulled her back on to the sidewalk that I realized that she was nearly run over. That would have sucked.
We walked to the store to get dog shampoo. When we got back, I discovered that the shower is broken and probably has been for a while. Then, when washing her blanket, I found out the kitchen light is out. Well, it’s not out, it blinks on occasionally. And, I found a stack of final notices from the ISP. Three of them were last and final. 2 of those said they were going to turn it over to a collections agency. Yeah . . .
And my luggage just came. Huzzah.Blogged with Flock

Mercury is in retrograde

As an Aquarius, of course, I don’t believe in astrology. But sometimes, when things start going wrong in rapid succession, I ask my California friends and learn that Mercury is, indeed, in retrograde. I have no idea what this means as per Mercury’s position relative to the Earth (and certainly have no idea how this could possibly have any measurable effect on the Earth), but in astrology terms, it means things are going to break. It’s a bad time to start new projects. One friend, Polly, who actually worked giving readings, explained that this is actually a good thing in that it helps people weed things out and focus, etc. It’s important to lead a balanced life. So my last week or so has been very balancing.

So I mentioned in my last post that I was moving from CVS to svn (don’t worry, this won’t get too technical, but anyway, the next paragraph will be non-geeky). I was all set to start work on new projects for a new year and so I created the organizational scheme that I would use on one computer and when I tried to get it onto the other one . . . no dice. So I decided enough was enough and switched systems. Which was fraught with all kinds of peril. In brief, it didn’t like my data and wouldn’t work with it. Developers started to recognize my login name and ask if I could submit bug reports. This is not a good thing. I had to add every file to svn, one at a time, trying to figure out which one was the culprit. I never did find out, but this process was not fast. At least it’s all in now, so my data is more or less safe.
While this was going on, I finally realized that none of my classmates were going to volunteer to watch my dog. My supervisor would have offered, but his wife just gave birth on Monday, so I told him no. There’s a pet store near my house, that I’ve talked about before. the owner was the guy who told me that my dog would be stolen from in front of the supermarket. Anyway, he has a chip reader and I wanted to see if Xena’s chip could be read with a standard, English reader and I wanted to get advice about kennels, so I went back to the shop with Xena.
The smell wasn’t very nice when I first went, but this time, it was like the air was soupy with it. The shop is full of birds and rodents and other small animals and a cat and there was a pungent mix of the smells of their food, their bedding, their fur and their feces. They also do dog grooming there, so there was a smell of wet dog and the hairs brown around my the hair dryers wafted through the shop (if only I was exaggerating). There were cases of vegetables on the ground, which I guess were for the rabbits, and clearly some forgotten ones, behind the overly stuffed shelves, had been left to rot. I imagined that a portal had opened to some foul layer of hell and stinking demons entered and left through this shop, whose smell would mask their comings and goings.
The shop guy didn’t have his chip reader with him. As for kennels, there were no good ones in Birmingham. I would get Xena back half starved, with open wounds, if I got her back at all. One of his customers got the wrong dog back. I would have to go at least 50 km out of town to find a decent kennel. I looked dumbfounded and he went on, saying that it was midterm break and all the kennels were already completely booked anyway. And I should give him a ring and make an appointment to get Xena’s chip read.
Right. I like to get all my distress out of the way in one go, so I went in the barber shop a few doors down and asked for a haircut. When I tried this in The Hague, I was refused service. In other places, it’s lead to huge arguments about appropriate haircuts. Etc etc. Well, England wins for least stress place to get a hair cut. They asked me to clarify, but no arguments at all. It just got cut. Alas, not quite as well as my Amsterdam barber, but quite a bit cheaper. The barber was indignant about the kennel situation. “We have animal welfare laws in this country!” she said. “No kennel would treat a dog like that! They would get shut down, maybe go to jail.” Her assistant wrote down some phone numbers from the yellow pages (“Do you have yellow pages in California?”) and later I called them and the first one had space and I booked it. Yay.
So when I got back, I finished up my svn conversion and all seemed well and it was time to write the music that I had due. I approached a high profile blogger about trading a commission for a plug and a banner ad and he said ok, and then my backup thing went totally wrong and I had to email him to ask for an extra week. Yikes. So I went to work on that. There’s a sports theme, so I recorded some football sounds from the TV and then layered them in a sort of interesting manners and then went to record some processed white noise. I thought it would be nice to have it start with very strongly resonant filterings and settle out into plain noise, which could be faded down to sound like crowd noise. This is still my plan, but the nice thing about hardware synths is that you never really know how it’s going to come out. This is why it’s fun.
My synth got kind of battered in the move (always tighten your bolts before shipping!), and this was my first time turning it on and, thank gods, it worked. So I set up my patch and tried to record it and got unfiltered noise. After a lot of head scratching, it became clear that the noise source was my mixer! Arg.
I took it apart and all the solder joints looked ok. I don’t know what I thought I could fix. I put it back together and reattached it and got the sound I was expecting. Yay. So I re-attached it to the computer and got nothing but noise again. Oh. Must be a software problem.
I went to download the manual for the Ardour, which is the mixing software that I use. (It’s free, and quite nice) and noticed both that the manual section I was looking for is not yet written (alas) and there’s a new version out with many improvements for mac users. (Huzzah.) The new version, though, didn’t like my version of Jack, which is an audio library that alot of free software uses. So I got the new version of jack and installed it and it wouldn’t run at all. And it completely blew away my old version. And then, slowly, I remembered that it had taken me over a week to figure out how to custom compile it last time so it would run on my machine. And I had never gotten around to doing the write up of what I changed to get it to work. oh crap.
That’s ok. I have other software. so I fired up Audacity, (which is also free software and very nice) and all it recorded was noise. ( . . . ) I tested my mixer again and it wasn’t working.
So a flaky mixer caused me to blow away my working software.
There’s no way I can finish this project without a mixer. So I have to buy a new one. In the mean time, I’ve missed the second deadline and created a mountain of work. This is not good.
What killed the mixer? It’s not surprising that it’s given up the ghost. It’s spent a lot of time bouncing around in a backpack and I plugged the american transformer into a step-down converter, which meant it was getting 50 Hz when it expected 60. Still, it functioned for 2 years in this manner. I’ve been having odd electrical problems recently. I go to sleep and leave things on (yeah, my carbon footprint, I know) and when I wake up, they’re inexplicably off. Still plugged in and switched on, but not getting electricity. Oh my god, the first time this happened was with my laptop. The battery had drained utterly and the power brick would not spit out juice. I thought the computer had died. But, unplugging and replugging fixes it every time so far. It’s hit my other computer, my speakers, my synths, a power bar (the light-up switch was not lit up). This is really weird. In other countries I’ve lived in, a plug in the wall means either that power is flowing or a fuse or breaker has gone. It doesn’t stop and wait to be replugged.
I think I need a UPS, which is expensive enough in the US. It’s going to cost a month’s rent here. They’re very useful in a studio, though. They suppress surges, they keep voltage steady in dips and brown outs, and, best of all, they tale a lot of noise out of the power and therefore make your gear actually sound better.
And I need to buy a new mixing board, which would be much, much cheaper in New York, where I’ll be on November 1, but stupid power differences and Britian’s odd obsession with grounded, fuse-containing plugs (hm, or not so odd after all), means that I should buy one in this country. Which is probably the most expensive place in all of Europe to buy electronics gear.
So, in summary, I have to spend a fortune housing my dog, replacing my mixer and getting a UPS. If I get my dog back, she’ll be wounded and half-dead. I totally blew it in a really high profile commission. My recording/mixing machine’s software is offline for the foreseeable future. My existing hardware is in danger. I have a meeting with my supervisor on wednesday and I’ve accomplished exactly nothing. Less than nothing, because before I had the potential of accomplishing something. But, to balance things, I don’t have to fight for haircuts. So it’s not all bad. Oh, and I’m moderating the livejournal feminist group again, which could go either way.
Still no social life, but my sanity is staying much more stable that I would have expected. So that’s good too. Really, things can only get better. Unless they don’t.